The owner of a fleet of Ecuadorian flagged boats that allegedly provided support to cocaine-laden vessels in the Eastern Pacific has been extradited to San Diego from Spain to face drug conspiracy charges.
Pedro Cornelio Pilligua Iduarte, 48, arrived in San Diego and made his first appearance in federal court on Friday. He was indicted by a federal grand jury in San Diego in March and arrested weeks later by Spanish authorities while visiting Madrid, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Based in Manta, Pilligua allegedly deployed his fleet of tuna fishing boats to aid cocaine-smuggling vessels out at sea during the 1,000-mile journey from Colombia to Mexico, prosecutors said. The fishing boats provided fuel, replacement parts, and communications devices among other necessities to help keep the flow of cocaine moving north, prosecutors said.
They added that the smuggling operation was under the control of the Sinaloa cartel.
The Eastern Pacific has become a prominent cocaine route in the past decade or so. Metric tons of cocaine are typically moved by boat to Mexico, where the drugs are then ferried to the U.S. over land routes already well established by Mexican cartels.
This case is part of Operation Pangeros Locos, a multi-year investigation led by several U.S. federal agencies. So far, the investigation has resulted in the seizure of more than 50,000 kilograms of cocaine, the indictment of 27 fishing vessel captains and owners, and the prosecution of 65 cocaine boat crewmembers, prosecutors said.
According to the Ecuadorian navy, investigations are ongoing in other cases of fishing vessels allegedly providing assistance to drug smugglers in the Pacific. U.S. agencies are assisting the Ecuador National Police in the probe.
Credit: San Diego Journal-Tribune