MORELIA, Mexico – Authorities seized a ship carrying 68,750 tons of iron ore in the port of Manzanillo suspected of having been mined illegally by Mexico’s Caballeros Templarios drug cartel in the western state of Michoacan, federal officials said.
An anonymous tip led authorities to the ship, which sailed on April 22, the federal commissioner for security and development in Michoacan, Alfredo Castillo, said.
The Jian Hua sailed from the port of Lazaro Cardenas in Michoacan, located on Mexico’s Pacific coast, but customs agents and marines found it in Manzanillo, a port in the western state of Colima.
The crew presented authorities with a federal Economy Secretariat permit issued for a mine in Michoacan, but the officials confirmed that the mine mentioned in the document was not being worked, raising questions about the provenance of the iron ore.
The Finance and Public Credit Secretariat issued a temporary seizure order for the iron ore and the navy secured the vessel and crew.
The company exporting the iron ore has 30 days to present documents to officials confirming that the ore was mined legally, Castillo said.
The federal government has seized more than 200,000 tons of minerals this year that were mined illegally by the cartel in Michoacan and Guerrero states.
Officials have suspected for some time that the Caballeros Templarios cartel uses Lazaro Cardenas, one of Mexico’s largest Pacific ports, to smuggle drugs and illegally mined minerals.
The federal government took over security at the port on Nov. 4 in response to allegations that port officials were on the payroll of drug traffickers.
The federal government deployed soldiers and police in Michoacan on Jan. 13 in an effort to end the wave of drug-related violence in the state.
Federal security forces killed the Caballeros Templarios cartel’s two top leaders, Nazario Moreno Gonzalez and Enrique Plancarte Solis, in February and March, respectively.
Moreno and other members of the Familia Michoacana gang formed the Caballeros Templarios organization after he was reported killed by the government in 2010.
The Caballeros Templarios cartel, which deals in both synthetic and natural drugs, commits murders, stages kidnappings and runs extortion rackets that target business owners and transport companies in Michoacan.