All posts by Wilder Alejandro Sanchez

Friends from Afar: U.S. and South Korea Coast Guards Help South America Combat IUU Fishing

The Southern Tide

Written by Wilder Alejandro Sanchez, The Southern Tide addresses maritime security issues throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. It discusses the challenges regional navies face including limited defense budgets, inter-state tensions, and transnational crimes. It also examines how these challenges influence current and future defense strategies, platform acquisitions, and relations with global powers.

“We focus on partnerships…Our partners want to work with us. They want the advantage of the United States education, training, exercises and military equipment. It’s the best in the world. And so it’s up to us to deliver that in a way that’s relevant and also provides a return on investment for American taxpayer. So that is our focus.” –Navy Adm. Craig S. Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command, before the Senate Armed Services Committee July 9, 2019.

By Wilder Alejandro Sanchez

Introduction

A deployment by the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Stone (WMSL-758) to the South Atlantic, and two coast guard patrol vessels donated by the Korea Coast Guard (KCG) to the Ecuadorian Navy, are some of the latest initiatives by South America’s partners to help regional navies combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. As large, extra-hemispheric fishing fleets continue to actively operate close to South American waters, often crossing into the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of regional states, navies require additional ships and the physical presence of partner navies to combat these crimes. In the vast waters of the South Pacific and South Atlantic, every ship counts.

The Current Status of the Extra-Regional Fleet

IUU is a constant problem across Latin American waters, both in the South Pacific and South Atlantic. At the time of this writing, the large, extra-hemispheric fishing fleet that operated in international waters close to Ecuador’s EEZ (see the author’s October 16, 2020 commentary “TIAR 21: Maritime security, the TIAR, and IUU fishing in the Western Hemisphere”) has crossed to the South Atlantic. The fleet gained international notoriety when it operated close to the Galapagos Islands, close to Ecuador, in mid-2020.

It has since then voyaged south, passing by Peru and Chile. After monitoring the fleet as it navigated close to its waters, the Chilean Navy reported that some 233 extra-hemispheric fishing vessels, mostly Chinese but also from South Korea and other nations, have crossed the Magellan Strait and Cape Horn to reach the South Atlantic. 

The U.S. Coast Guard Helps South American Partners 

The U.S. Coast Guard has deployed its new Legend-class cutter Stone to the South Atlantic to cooperate with the navies of Guyana, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, as well as Portugal, to help combat IUU fishing.

Stone departed from the U.S. in late December and has already passed by Guyana, where it carried out maneuvers with the coast guards of Guyana to combat IUU fishing in the area as part of Operation Southern Cross. In engaging with Brazil, the crew of the Stone “conducted engagements and training on communications and law enforcement procedures at the Mocangue Naval Complex in Rio de Janeiro. At sea, Stone worked with the patrol vessel Guaiba and the offshore patrol vessel Amazonas to patrol jointly and practice maneuvering together,” explained the U.S. Coast Guard to the author. Stone docked in Montevideo, Uruguay, in late January.

U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Jason McCarthey, operations officer of the USCGC Stone (WMSL 758), exchanges gifts with members of the Guyana Coast Guard off the coast of Guyana on Jan. 9, 2021. After enacting a bilateral agreement on Sep. 18, 2020, the U.S. Coast Guard and Guyana Coast Guard completed their first cooperative training exercise to practice combating illicit marine traffic. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class John Hightower) KCG retired Coast Guard ships are loaded onto a transport for delivery to Ecuador (Korean Coast Guard photo)

For Latin American states, it is always helpful when a (modern) vessel from one of its partners travels to the region to provide assistance with surveillance and, if necessary, interception operations of suspicious vessels that may be engaged in activities like IUU fishing, smuggling narcotics, among other maritime crimes. However, vessels like Stone cannot be in the South Atlantic perpetually, and so it is up to regional navies to cooperate with each other and improve their capacities to combat these crimes.

The Importance of Ports in the Fight Against IUU Fishing

A spokesperson from the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs explained to the author that the U.S. government “supports and promotes the implementation of the Agreement on Port State Measures (PSMA), a groundbreaking treaty designed to ensure catch from illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing vessels cannot be offloaded in ports and enter the global market.” If implemented in an effective manner, “the PSMA can ​close gaps and weak points so that fishing vessels conducting IUU fishing activities have minimal opportunities to circumvent the rules,” the spokesperson explained. South American countries like Chile, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, and Uruguay are already parties to the PSMA.

Uruguay is an interesting case study of efforts to combat IUU fishing. The country has very limited naval assets and a vast sea that is plagued by IUU fishing (see the author’s October 12, 2016 commentary for CIMSEC: “The UNCLCS Ruling and the Future of the Uruguayan Navy”). Therefore, in a positive development, “the government of Uruguay, consistent with the Port State Measures Agreement, will require certification from all large fishing ships to demonstrate they have not been engaged in illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing by requiring Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) location data. Uruguay is also increasing the number of its fishing vessel inspectors by 33 percent,” explained the Bureau to the author. The announcement was made during the 25-27 January visit of Stone to the South American nation.

Moreover, it is worth noting that Washington has an “ongoing multiyear partnership in the Caribbean with the [Food and Agriculture Organization] to support PSMA implementation and other instruments to combat IUU fishing in the Bahamas, Guyana, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and Trinidad and Tobago.” Extra-hemispheric fishing fleets (e.g. from China) do not operate in Caribbean waters, but the region still has to combat IUU fishing. Therefore, support from the U.S., particularly via the U.S. Coast Guard, but also from other agencies, is key to protecting Caribbean marine life.

The KCG Ecuadorian-Partnership

In mid-December, the Ecuadorian Navy presented its two new secondhand patrol boats. The vessels were operated by the Korean Coast Guard from the early 1990s until they were decommissioned in 2019 and 2020. The Haeuri-class vessels have an overall length of 54 meters, a displacement of 300 tons, and were manufactured by Hyundai Heavy Industries.

The two ships were transported from South Korea to Ecuador aboard the general cargo ship Atlantic Harmony; they departed South Korea in mid-November and arrived in mid-December. It is expected that the vessels will be commissioned into the fleet in early 2021.

Retired Korean Coast Guard ships are loaded onto a transport for delivery to Ecuador (Korean Coast Guard photo)

Prior to their commissioning, maintenance for the new ships will be provided by the Ecuadorian state-run shipyard ASTINAVE, a shipyard spokesperson explained to the author. The shipyard’s operations, like building new vessels and maintaining the rest of the fleet, make ASTINAVE a critical pillar of the country’s defense strategy, the spokesperson explained.

The two ships are a welcome addition to the Ecuadorian fleet for patrol operations. In fact, according to reports, the ships will be utilized to patrol the Galapagos Islands in order to protect these natural reserves from IUU fishing.

In a statement, Commissioner General of the Korea Coast Guard Kim Hong Hee highlighted the importance of this transfer: “previously, the vessels 302 and 303 had successfully completed the missions of protecting the marine resources and safeguarding the maritime sovereignty surrounding the Jeju island, South Korea. They will be once again serving the cause after arriving at the Guayaquil Port of Ecuador.”

Commissioner General of the Korea Coast Guard Kim Hong Hee (Korean Coast Guard photo)

Final Thoughts

Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing is a global problem that requires short- and long-term strategies, including greater cooperation between the governments of nations whose waters are constantly suffering from predatory fishing. This is the case of many Latin American nations, as navies are monitoring their EEZs to locate, shadow, and if necessary, intercept extra-hemispheric fishing vessels.

In 2020, a major international fishing fleet of over 300 vessels, many of them from China, made global headlines as they operated close to the cherished Galapagos Islands. However, while global media attention has moved on to other issues, the fleet is still close to South American waters, with some 233 vessels reportedly crossing from the South Pacific to the South Atlantic. The vast number of fishing vessels means that regional navies require more ships, not to mention more maritime patrol aircraft, to maintain a vigilant presence across vast bodies of water.

This is why the deployment of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Stone, in addition to other support provided by Washington, and the donation by the Korea Coast Guard to the Ecuadorian Navy of two decommissioned patrol vessels, are welcome developments. “I hope that the two patrol vessels will become invaluable assets for Ecuador, which is also affected by the spread of the coronavirus, contributing to protecting the Galapagos islands designated as one of the UNESCO Natural Heritage sites,” commented KCG Commissioner General Kim Hong Hee in November as Atlantic Harmony departed for Latin America.

As extra-hemispheric fishing fleets will continue to operate in a predatory manner close, if not within the EEZs of South American nations, greater cooperation and an active physical presence in these vast waters will remain mandatory.

Wilder Alejandro Sánchez is an analyst who focuses on international security and geopolitics. The views expressed in this article belong to the author alone and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.

Featured Image: Guyana Coast Guard small boats patrol alongside the USCGC Stone (WMSL 758) off Guyana’s coast on Jan. 9, 2021. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class John Hightower)

TIAR 21: Maritime security, the TIAR, and IUU fishing in the Western Hemisphere

The Southern Tide

Written by Wilder Alejandro Sanchez, The Southern Tide addresses maritime security issues throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. It discusses the challenges regional navies face including limited defense budgets, inter-state tensions, and transnational crimes. It also examines how these challenges influence current and future defense strategies, platform acquisitions, and relations with global powers.

“We focus on partnerships…Our partners want to work with us. They want the advantage of the United States education, training, exercises and military equipment. It’s the best in the world. And so it’s up to us to deliver that in a way that’s relevant and also provides a return on investment for American taxpayer. So that is our focus.” –Navy Adm. Craig S. Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command, before the Senate Armed Services Committee July 9, 2019.

By Wilder Alejandro Sanchez

Introduction

An international fishing fleet is currently sailing through international waters in the South Pacific, passing close to Ecuador and Peru, and it is currently sailing close to Chile en route to Antarctica The navies of these countries are on alert and governments are sharing information to monitor the fleet.

In light of this development, what more can regional governments do to jointly combat illegal, unreported, or unregulated (IUU) fishing? One tool in the region’s arsenal could be amended in order to combat this particular type of threat: the Inter-American Reciprocal Assistance Treaty (Tratado Inter-Americano de Asistencia Recíproca: TIAR), more commonly known as the Rio Treaty as or the Rio Pact. 

Extra-Hemispheric Fishing

For months, a multinational fishing fleet of around 300 ships has operated in the South Pacific, close to the territorial waters of South American nations. Several of these vessels have been identified as originating from the People’s Republic of China, but it is unclear if the majority of vessels are Chinese.

The author recently discussed the fleet in an August 14 commentary for CIMSEC (“The Ecuadorian Navy’s Constant Struggle Against IUU Fishing”) when the vessels crossed international waters between Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, which are part of Ecuador. At the time of this writing, the fleet is heading south, and has already passed through international waters close to Peru. At the time of writing, the fleet is passing close to Chile’s territorial waters

Regional navies are actively monitoring the fleet. The Peruvian navy announced, via Communique 08/2020, that is has deployed a King Air B200 aircraft, the coastal patrol vessel Rio Cañete, in addition to other units for surveillance and patrol operations. Similarly, Chile’s general maritime directorate (Dirección General del Territorio Marítimo y Marina Mercante: DIRECTEMAR) has explained that it is aware of the fleet sailing southward, as “every year, some of these ships cross our  coasts and then cross the Magellan Strait,” as they chase maritime life, including squid. The directorate similarly stated that it is ready to deploy units to monitor the fleet. 

Nevertheless, given the vast size of the fishing fleet and limited maritime and aerial assets that the Ecuadorian, Peruvian, and Chilean navies and air forces possess, it is unclear if any vessels have managed to cross, or will cross in the future, into the waters of these countries to carry out illegal fishing activities.

The U.S. government has taken a more active role regarding this situation, especially given that at least several dozen vessels are Chinese. For example, the U.S. embassy in Peru issued an alert via Twitter about the “Chinese fishing fleet” operating close to Peruvian waters. Previously, the National Security Council tweeted that it “stands with President Lenin [Moreno] ….against any direct aggression, directed towards their economic and environmental sovereignty,” when the fleet passed near Ecuador.

Enter The TIAR

At this point, it is worth discussing what other legal tools regional governments possess to face the problem of predatory fishing from extra-hemispheric fishing fleets. Several of these ships come from China, Taiwan, the Philippines, among other Asian nations. They travel to South Pacific waters (and other bodies of water across the world) since their own territorial waters have been over-fished and depleted. The aforementioned TIAR could be reformed to more effectively combat IUU fishing.

A brief historical summary is necessary: “the most immediate foundations of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance go back to, at least, the Declaration of Lima of December 24, 1938,” explained a scholar to the author. In other words, while the Rio Pact is often associated with the Cold War, the idea of collaboration and hemispheric solidarity predates this period of history.

The TIAR was created in 1947 and is known for Article 3, a clause that calls for collective security should one of its members be attacked. The Treaty has been invoked around 20 times since its inception, such as to support the U.S. blockade against Cuba during the missile crisis. The treaty was also invoked after the 9/11 attacks.

Most recently, in late 2019, parties to TIAR invoked it as part of a regional strategy to pressure the regime of President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela. It is important to stress that TIAR’s collective security clause was not invoked to justify some type of joint military operation against Venezuela. Rather, the treaty was activated to apply sanctions on individuals associated with President Maduro’s administration.

Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Venezuela have withdrawn from TIAR. However, Venezuela returned by decision of interim President Juan Guaido, but President Nicolas Maduro, whose government has de facto control of the country, is against it.

TIAR 21: Looking Forward

TIAR was designed with a focus on inter-state wars and extra-hemispheric aggressions. The document was revised and amended in 1975, but the overall objective remains the same. With that said, there are sections that could potentially be interpreted as referring to IUU fishing.

For example, Article 5 explains how the TIAR’s council can meet if there is “a conflict or serious event that might endanger the peace of America,” while Article 9 mentions how “the sending by or on behalf of a State of armed bands, groups, irregulars or mercenaries, which carry out acts of armed force against another State.” Similarly, Article 11 mentions how “the High Contracting Parties recognize that, for the maintenance of peace and security in the Hemisphere, collective economic security for the development of the Member States of the Organization of American States must also be guaranteed.” It goes without saying that economic security for coastal nations includes the fishing industry.

While none of these articles mentions IUU by name, or directly addresses transnational, non-traditional security threats such as illegal fishing, it could be argued that the spirit of some of these articles touches on this problem. The fact that TIAR has been invoked to apply sanctions against the Maduro government already serves as precedent for the Treaty being utilized to address issues that are not directly linked to military aggressions by extra-hemispheric powers.

Another possibility is that the TIAR could be reformed and expanded to include non-traditional security threats like IUU fishing. This new version could be a combination of the existing document and other international agreements that deal with maritime issues, like the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. This new document could be called TIAR 21, in that it should be updated to address 21st century Western Hemispheric security threats and challenges. Ideally, parties to TIAR 21 could activate it when, for example, a large extra-hemispheric fishing is operating close to their borders, so neighboring states can deploy naval assets to support patrol operations in territorial waters and exclusive economic zones.

There are several issues to keep in mind when it comes to updating the TIAR to include IUU fishing. One question is whether TIAR 21 could only be activated to deal with extra-hemispheric fishing vessels. There is a fair amount of intra-hemispheric IUU fishing in the region. For example, the Royal Bahamas Defence Force apprehended two Dominican poaching vessels in its waters in mid-September. Thus, it would be problematic if Western Hemispheric countries activate TIAR 21 against one another to combat intra-regional IUU fishing.

Similarly, what would activating TIAR 21 mean exactly when it comes to IUU fishing? Ideally, regional navies could be deployed to monitor extra-hemispheric fishing fleets. It is logical to assume that at some point, some of these vessels will enter into the territorial waters of Ecuador, Peru, Chile or Argentina, as such incidents have repeatedly occurred in the past. Thus, by activating TIAR 21, a government could request that other governments deploy vessel or aerial assets to assist with monitoring this fishing fleet, and intervene if necessary if one crosses into its own territorial waters.

This proposal is not without precedents. Thanks to the Shiprider Agreements the U.S. has signed with several Caribbean nations, an officer from Jamaica, for example, can sail in  a U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) vessel and be able to apprehend a vessel operating in Jamaica’s territorial waters. The Jamaican law enforcement officer is the individual actually making the arrest, even if he is the sole Jamaican aboard a USCG ship.

Nevertheless, this proposal is also problematic, as there are historical animosities throughout Latin America that may prevent countries from wanting to allow the vessels of other navies in their territorial waters without an escort. There is also the problem of regional navies not having sufficient assets to deploy to assist a fellow navy, even if requested. This is another issue that will have to be addressed, but the general concept is that greater cooperation amongst South American navies and air forces is needed to combat extra-hemispheric, non-traditional security threats.

Finally, it is worth noting that international organizations, not just individual governments, have offered their support to South America as regional nations deal with the latest fishing fleet crossing the South Pacific. For example, in late September, representatives from the United Nations met virtually with government officials from Ecuador to discuss how the UN can help Quito protect the rich biodiversity of the Galapagos Islands. Similarly, the Permanent Commission for the South Pacific (Comisión Permanente del Pacífico Sur: CPPS), which has Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru as members, issued a declaration on August 5 calling for greater cooperation and exchange of information to address the presence of international fleets in the region and the dangers of overfishing.

In other words, there are several mechanisms already trying to help combat IUU fishing, but apart from information sharing, more actual vessels in the water are needed to monitor and, if necessary, intercept, these fishing vessels.

Conclusion

Looking forward, the Organization of American States, under which TIAR operates, and its member states should consider reviewing and upgrading TIAR and updating it into an agreement that can help Western Hemisphere states  addresses 21st century threats, thereby creating a  “TIAR 21.” 

When discussing maritime security, there is a natural tendency to primarily focus on the number and sophistication of maritime and aerial assets, followed by overall strategies that navies, combined with other services, can carry out to combat an aggressor. However, it is important to also think even farther “outside of the box,” and discuss the legal documents and arrangements that governments can utilize to obtain international support to protect maritime territory from major threats like illegal, unreported, or unregulated fishing.

Wilder Alejandro Sánchez is an analyst who focuses on international security and geopolitics. The views expressed in this article belong the author alone and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.

Featured Image: Members of the Rio Treaty meet to discuss possible sanctions on Venezuela, Monday, September 23, 2019, in New York (Photo via AP/Bebeto Matthews)

The Ecuadorian Navy’s Constant Struggle Against IUU Fishing

The Southern Tide

Written by Wilder Alejandro Sanchez, The Southern Tide addresses maritime security issues throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. It discusses the challenges regional navies face including limited defense budgets, inter-state tensions, and transnational crimes. It also examines how these challenges influence current and future defense strategies, platform acquisitions, and relations with global powers.

“We focus on partnerships…Our partners want to work with us. They want the advantage of the United States education, training, exercises and military equipment. It’s the best in the world. And so it’s up to us to deliver that in a way that’s relevant and also provides a return on investment for American taxpayer. So that is our focus.” –Navy Adm. Craig S. Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command, before the Senate Armed Services Committee July 9, 2019.

By Wilder Alejandro Sanchez

An international fishing fleet composed of some 340 vessels is currently sailing through international waters close to Ecuador’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a constant challenge for Latin American navies, but the recurring presence of large, predatory, extra-regional fishing fleets exacerbates an already problematic situation.

The Latest Extra-Regional Fleet

According to Ecuadorian authorities, a fleet of some 340 vessels is operating through a corridor of international waters between Ecuador’s EEZ and the Galapagos Islands. Defense Minister Oswaldo Jarrin has stated that the Ecuadorian government has been aware of the fleet for over a month, as it traveled from south to north from Peru. As of 7 August, the Ecuadorian navy has deployed corvette Manabi (CM-12), with a helicopter aboard, and the coastal patrol boat San Cristobal (LG-30) to monitor the fleet. Additionally a CASA aircraft, assigned to the navy’s air wing, has carried out surveillance operations.

Several vessels have been identified as originating from China, which has prompted some media outlets to generalize it as a “Chinese fishing fleet.” Quito has stated vessels have come from other countries as well, but without specifying which ones. It is well-known that fishing fleets from Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan also operate in the South Pacific, hence it is likely that some vessels come from these nations as well. Given that this is a fleet numbering in the hundreds of vessels, it is likely a mixed bag of nationalities.

How to Defeat IUU Fishing?

When it comes to IUU fishing, as this author has discussed in other commentaries for CIMSEC, (see “Latin American Navies Combat Illegal Fishing,” and “A Growing Concern: Chinese Illegal Fishing in Latin America”) this is a problem of “levels” for Latin America. What is meant by this is that the first level focuses on domestic IUU fishing (a vessel fishing within its country’s territorial waters), then at the regional level (ships registered in one country operating in the waters of another country), and finally at the extra-hemispheric level (the presence of extra-regional fishing fleets).

Thus, while the large international fleet close to Ecuador is making global headlines, this is not the sole incident currently taking place in the region. In fact, while eyes are focused on the South Pacific, the Uruguayan Ministry of Defense has reported that a fleet of approximately 19 Brazilian fishing vessels are operating without permission in its territorial waters as well. Uruguayan and Brazilian authorities are discussing this issue. While 19 ships will not be as destructive as 340, the problem is still significant.

A fishing boat of Brazilian origin photographed from a Uruguayan Navy aircraft (Uruguayan Ministry of Defense)

Regional governments, ministries of defense, and navies regularly explain their strategies to combat IUU fishing. Unsurprisingly, much attention is given to greater cooperation between defense ministries and armed services, and to a large extend, this is occurring. For example, the Permanent Commission for the South Pacific (Comisión Permanente del Pacifico Sur: CPPS), which has Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru as members, issued a declaration on August 5 calling for greater cooperation and exchange of information to address the presence of international fleets in the region and the dangers of overfishing. Moreover, the U.S. National Security Council  also tweeted its support for Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno, stating, “The United States stands with President @Lenin and our friends and partners in #Ecuador against any aggression directed toward their economic and environmental sovereignty.”

As for partnership between navies, this is also taking place. An interesting example occurred in 2018 in the Caribbean when the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) chased three fishing vessels for illegally fishing in Bahamian territorial waters. The ships crossed into Cuban waters to escape their pursuers, but Cuban authorities located these ships, apprehended them, and turned them over to the RBDF. This is an important example of international cooperation to combat a crime that respects no borders.

There is also greater reliance on technology, such as satellites, to locate and monitor suspicious vessels, and to figure out their ports of origin, which is what the Ecuadorian government states it has done. In other words, regional navies and other agencies are making positive announcements, and there are sufficient examples of successful interdictions and international partnerships. But alas, the problem continues.

More Ships, Please

One obvious issue has to do with numbers, namely how many vessels and supporting aircraft can Latin American and Caribbean navies deploy to combat this crime. Regional vessels routinely carry out myriad tasks at sea, including combating IUU fishing, drug trafficking and smuggling, in addition to carrying out search and rescue operations, support operations to coastal communities, in addition to routine patrols and even unconventional missions. While the Ecuadorian navy is monitoring the international fishing fleet, the service reported on July 20 that naval personnel, along with fishermen and representatives from the Ministry of the Environment, freed a whale that got stuck in a fishing net in the Tonchigue area. Vessels also have to be docked to undergo maintenance or upgrades, which can put them out of commission for extended periods of time.

To be fair, Latin American navies are obtaining new equipment that can be utilized to combat IUU fishing. Case in point, Argentina’s newest Offshore Patrol Vessel Bouchard (P-51), acquired from France, has already successfully stopped a Chinese fishing vessel in its territorial waters this past May. Similarly, Peru recently launched two new domestically manufactured OPVs, Río Tumbes and Río Locumba, which will be very helpful for combating maritime crimes.

As for Ecuador, a very noteworthy development occurred recently, where in late July the Ecuadorian navy commissioned a new support vessel, BAE Hualcopo. What is remarkable about Hualcopo is its background: the vessel used to be known as Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999, and it was detained in 2017 by Ecuador for operating without authorization by the Galapagos Islands as part of a large Chinese fishing fleet. Upon inspection, authorities found aboard the vessel around 300 tons of fish, including endangered sharks. In 2019, as part of a lengthy legal process, Ecuador’s judicial system (Corte Nacional de Justicia – CNJ), ruled that the vessel was permanently forfeited, and it was eventually transferred to the navy. Now Hualcopo will carry out support operations for the Ecuadorian navy and may very well be involved in stopping the same IUU fishing activities that it carried out in its previous life.

Hualcopo raises an important issue, namely the fate of vessels that are seized as part of the war against IUU fishing. Personally, this author has not heard of other navies gaining control of vessels detained for IUU, hence Hualcopo may set an interesting precedent. Certainly some detained vessels may be too old or incompatible with a navy’s requirements and operations, but others could be given a second life, particularly large ships that can be utilized for transportation.

Final Thoughts 

Regional navies have enjoyed plenty of successes, and many are upgrading and expanding their fleets, even by re-purposing a one-time fishing vessel, namely Ecuador’s Hualcopo. However, the sheer size of some of these fleets engaging in IUU fishing dwarfs most regional and global navies. For example, while a fleet of 19 Brazilian vessels is not as large as a fleet of 340, it is sizeable enough to be a challenge for the Uruguayan navy, which is known for its aging fleet.

The international fishing fleet currently operating close to Ecuador’s territorial waters will certainly not be the last. Because of their maritime biodiversity and limited naval and aerial platforms, Latin American and Caribbean waters will remain viable arenas for IUU fishing.

Wilder Alejandro Sánchez is an analyst who focuses on international security and geopolitics. The views expressed in this article belong the author alone and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.

Featured Image: A fishing boat seen from an Ecuadorian Navy aircraft, August 7, 2020. (Reuters/Santiago Arcos)

Rising to Lead: Female Commanding Officers in Latin America’s Navies

The Southern Tide

Written by Wilder Alejandro Sanchez, The Southern Tide addresses maritime security issues throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. It discusses the challenges regional navies face including limited defense budgets, inter-state tensions, and transnational crimes. It also examines how these challenges influence current and future defense strategies, platform acquisitions, and relations with global powers.

“We focus on partnerships…Our partners want to work with us. They want the advantage of the United States education, training, exercises and military equipment. It’s the best in the world. And so it’s up to us to deliver that in a way that’s relevant and also provides a return on investment for American taxpayer. So that is our focus.” –Navy Adm. Craig S. Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command, before the Senate Armed Services Committee July 9, 2019.

By Wilder Alejandro Sanchez

A historical milestone was reached in Uruguay as Capitan Valeria Sorrenti became the first female commander of an Uruguayan Navy vessel. With that said, it is important to keep in mind that she is only the latest example of a growing trend. In recent years there were a number of positive “firsts” when it comes to female naval officers taking command of ships among various Latin American navies, a trend that will hopefully continue.

The Uruguayan Navy’s Newest Ship Commander

At a ceremony held in Montevideo in early March, Captain Sorrenti became the commander of Audaz (ROU 34), a Kondor II-class minesweeper. The ship was commissioned in the South American country’s navy in the early 1990s, after previously serving in the East German Navy. The officer is no stranger to Audaz as she previously served as the ship’s second in-command. With its new commander, Audaz will be tasked to monitor Uruguay’s territorial waters, with a focus on combating maritime crimes (particularly illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing), conducting mine-sweeping exercises, and performing search-and-rescue operations.

Capitán de Corbeta Valeria Sorrenti of the Uruguayan Navy (Uruguyan Ministry of National Defense)

Such tasks are problematic for the Uruguayan Navy these days since, as the author discussed in a 2016 analysis for CIMSEC titled, “The UNCLCS Ruling and the Future of the Uruguayan Navy,” the country has one of the oldest fleets in South America. This presents a problem when it comes to the multiple tasks the fleet has to perform within territorial waters and also abroad, as Uruguay has an important presence in Antarctica.

The renewal of the fleet has been slow and revolves around the acquisition of small vessels. In August 2019, the U.S. delivered “a second batch of two Metal Shark 32-ft (9.8m) fast patrol boats … to the Uruguayan Navy Comando de Infanteria de Marina (Marines),” according to Jane’s Defence. That brings the total fleet of Uruguayan fast patrol boats to four platforms. In late 2018, the Navy also acquired two German-made search-and-rescue vessels, called Isla de Flores (ROU 51) and Isla de Lobos (ROU 52).

For years, the Uruguayan Navy has attempted to acquire new offshore patrol vessels to modernize its fleet, but this has yet to occur due to the defense ministry’s limited budget. Nevertheless, with commanders like Captain Sorrenti at the helm, the Navy may make the most of what it has.

Other “Firsts”

The promotion of Captain Sorrenti does not occur in a vacuum as throughout the past decade other female personnel have been promoted to positions of command throughout various Latin American navies.

In 2009, midshipman Erica Vanessa Bibbó was named commander of the Argentine coastal patrol boat ARA Zurubi (P-55). That same year, Frigate Lieutenant Raquel Elena Romero of the Colombian Navy became the commander of the buoy-deploying ship ARC Isla Palma. Some years later, in 2013, Captain Hildelene Lobato Bahia became the first Brazilian female officer in command of a vessel of the country’s merchant navy, the tanker Rômulo Almeida.

Furthermore, in January 2018, Captain Casandra Silva became the first female commander of a Peruvian Navy vessel – the offshore patrol vessel Rio Cañete (PM-205), manufactured by the Peruvian state-run shipyard SIMA. Under her command, Rio Cañete intercepted a vessel in Northern Peru, which was reportedly carrying 1,850 kilograms of cocaine. A year later in January 2019, 2nd Lieutenant Carolina Cuadras was named the captain of the patrol boat Salinas (LPC-1816), which has its home port in Iquique, Northern Chile. Cuadras is the first woman to obtain the command of a ship in the Chilean Navy.

It is also worth noting that female officers are also in command of naval facilities. Captain Nora Benavides Luna is the first female commander of a Peruvian naval base, located in Pucallpa port, in the Peruvian Amazon. Finally, there are female commanders of civilian ships, such as the tug boat Monte Cristi in the Dominican Republic which has an all-female crew.

On the other hand, one tragic case is that of Captain Eliana Krawczyk, Argentina’s first ever female submarine officer. Sadly, she was aboard the Argentina submarine ARA San Juan when it disappeared in November 2017. She and the other 43 crew members of the boat were lost.

Captain Eliana Krawczyk of the Argentine Navy (ASSA – Agrupación Suboficiales Submarinistas Argentinos)

Primed to Rise

Discussing the history of women in Latin American militaries in general, or navies in particular, would require a volume to do it proper justice. Focusing on senior officers, there are already women who have managed to achieve high-ranking positions in various Latin American navies, but their numbers are few. There are two in Brazil, including Rear Admiral Dalva Mendes and Rear Admiral Luciana Mascarenhas da Costa Marroni, and Rear Admiral Mayra Alicia Díaz of the Dominican Republic’s Navy. Another female admiral can be found in Venezuela, Admiral Érika Virgüez Oviedo, who also serves as a deputy defense minister for the regime of Nicolas Maduro.

Rear Admiral Luciana Mascarenhas da Costa Marroni of the Brazilian Navy (BBC News Brasil)

In an interview with the author, Vice Admiral (ret.) Omar Eduardo Andujar-Zaiter of the Dominican Republic’s Navy (DRN), highlighted how in the Caribbean nation’s navy there are already female personnel whose ranks range from ensign to admiral. He added that while currently there are no female commanders of vessels, “it’s just a matter of time before this occurs.”

Hopefully, with more young women enlisting and many already currently deployed aboard ships, more Latin American vessels will be commanded by female officers in the near future. One example can be found in Colombia, where in 2018, for the first time an overwhelming majority of female cadets  (51 in total and three men) were aboard the navy’s training vessel ARC Gloria as part of a training exercise. Hopefully several of these young cadets will have the opportunity to command their own ship in the coming years.

One clear obstacle preventing more women from obtaining high-ranking positions is that navies, along with other services and careers, have limited the types of fields that women can join, hence limiting how high up the chain of command they can go. A December 2019 article in Americas Quarterly, entitled “Why It’s Essential to Have More Women in Latin America’s Militaries,” explains how “high-ranking female officers in Latin America are few in number. Some have served as doctors, teachers and computer scientists, but training for roles directly involved in security is still almost exclusively left for males.” A March 2020 report in the BBC’s Portuguese service about the history of women in the Brazilian Navy mentions how Rear Admiral Mendes focused on health services while Rear Admiral da Costa Marroni concentrated on engineering and telecommunications.

Without a doubt there is still a long way to go for greater gender equality amongst Latin American defense forces. An April 2019 article by Plaza Publica discusses the lack of female generals (or admirals) in the Guatemalan armed forces. Gender discrimination is still an ever-present problem that needs to be tackled.

It is important that female navy officers are now commanding vessels, not only because of this achievement in and of itself, but also because these types of posts will help them advance even more in their careers.

Conclusion

The Uruguayan Navy now has its very first female ship commander – an important achievement for  Captain Sorrenti, the Uruguayan Navy, and Latin American navies in general. There are already female admirals in the region, but female commanders of vessels are still a rarity. Hence the importance of female officers commanding ships in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Peru cannot be overstated.

As Latin American navies undergo modernization, with a focus on operating more domestically-manufactured vessels and submarines, it is similarly important to monitor who is commanding them. “Female naval personnel in the DRN have maintained the strictest standards of conduct,” explains Vice Admiral Andujar-Zaiter, thanks to which false paradigms and orthodox myths about women in the armed forces have been debunked. Without a doubt, only the most capable officers should lead a ship, and female Latin American naval officers are proving that they are more than up to the challenge.

Wilder Alejandro Sánchez is an analyst who focuses on international security and geopolitics. The views expressed in this article belong the author alone and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.

Featured Image: Capitán de Corbeta Valeria Sorrenti of the Uruguayan Navy taking command of the minesweeper Audaz (Uruguyan Ministry of National Defense)