Were Those Masked Men Actually Mexican Navy?

"We read the April 9 ‘Lectronic item about Besame, the Southern California-based mini-megayacht that was approached by a panga full of armed and masked men off the coast of mainland Mexico recently," write Guy and Deborah Bunting, former residents of Vista who have been cruising their M&M 46 catamaran Elan in Mexico and Central America for years now.

"On the evening of March 5, off the coast of Zihuatanejo, during our passage from the Galapagos Islands to Zihuatanejo, we heard a frantic call on the VHF from a large sportsfishing boat to the Coast Guard, reporting they were being approached by a vessel manned by men in black masks. I don’t recall the exact description of the vessel the men were in, but I’m pretty sure it was a large panga. After several responses from English-speaking folks on boats in the area, none of which were Coast Guard vessels, the men on the approaching panga lifted their masks — and turned out to indeed be members of the Mexican Navy about to conduct a routine vessel inspection! They were allowed aboard, and the skipper of the large sportfishing boat said that the boarding party was professional and courteous, and that the inspection was minimal. They gave no explanation for the masks.

"The skipper of the sport fishing boat also said the boarders were all dressed in SWAT team-like garb, were heavily armed, and that it was quite frightening at first. No mention was made as to whether or not they were hailed by the Navy in advance of the boarding, but we heard many hails to vessels from the Mexican Navy in English and Spanish during that night.

"Although many boats were boarded by the Navy off Zihua on the evening of March 5, we somehow avoided the picket line. Once we got to port, I asked the port captain about Navy personnel being masked. He said he knew nothing about it.

"I have to admit, seeing a boatload of men wearing black masks approaching would be unnerving, but in this case at least, they were indeed Mexican Navy personnel."

Why would the members of the Mexican military wear masks? There is a massive drug war going on in Mexico right now, both between the most powerful cartels, and between the relatively new administration of President Calderon and the drug cartels. Thousands have been killed, and the drug cartels have been known to do things like decapitate members of the police/Federales/military and leave the heads in front of bases or on disco floors. In addition, families of members of the police/Federales/military involved in drug interdiction operations have been kidnapped and/or killed. As such, even the good guys have been wearing masks to hide their identities.

There are three reasons we think that Besame was not being trailed by "pirates." First, had they been pirates, we assume they would have shot the hell out of the boat after not being allowed to board. Second, because, in similar operations, members of the Mexican Navy have worn masks. Finally, because there haven’t been any other such attacks in Mexico to date. Indeed, the remarkable thing is how safe coastal Mexico is despite these massive drug battles. The one thing both the drug cartels and government know is that tourism in Mexico is sacred, so while some Mexico towns are battlefields, those frequented by higher end tourists, and the coast, are actually very safe. It’s the same thing with Cartagena in Colombia — everybody has agreed there will be no drug wars in that historic city.

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Birthday boy – Olin Stephens turned 100 this past weekend. © 2008 Webb Logg We would like to join the rest of the sailing world in wishing happy birthday to Olin Stephens, who turned 100 yesterday (April 13).