At least nine people were killed after shooters, who arrived in boats and in vehicles, opened fire at a port in northern Ecuador near the Colombian border, the public prosecutor’s said Tuesday.
Interior Minister Juan Zapata stated in an interview with Ecuavisa television that a group of 30 individuals, who were heavily armed, carried out the attack. According to Zapata, the incident was caused by a territorial conflict between two rival gangs.
According to Zapata, during the time of the morning shooting, there were approximately 1,500 to 2,000 people in the port, which is predominantly inhabited by fishermen who utilize traditional techniques for fishing.
Zapata further explained that the attack occurred due to the fishermen’s preference for the security provided by a particular criminal organization, which led to them being targeted by another group in retaliation.
The public prosecutor confirmed in a tweet that seven bodies were discovered at the Artisanal Fishing Port in the Esmeraldas district, and two additional bodies were recovered from a nearby health center before being transported to the local morgue.
The prosecutor mentioned in another tweet that the police had found one of the vehicles used by the attackers, which was abandoned at the port, and subsequently seized it.
The province of Esmeraldas, which is known for its tourism industry, has been experiencing high levels of crime and violence, prompting the government to declare a state of emergency since the 3rd of March.
According to the authorities, Esmeraldas is considered to be one of the most crime-ridden places in the country.
Last month, police discovered three bodies, one of them a teenager, wrapped in black bags in the same province, and it was confirmed that the killings were linked to criminal gangs.
The situation is not isolated as the port city of Guayaquil is also facing similar issues, with both areas being hotspots for drug trafficking gangs.
Ecuador, situated between Colombia and Peru, the world’s two largest cocaine producers, has been experiencing an increase in violence and homicides associated with drug trafficking. Many of the drugs pass through Ecuador’s ports, particularly Guayaquil, on their way to the United States and Europe.
The surge in drug-related violence has caused Ecuador’s murder rate to nearly double from 14 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2021 to 25 in the last year.