The odyssey of the Yacu Kallpa
With 14 trips from the Amazon, this Peruvian-flagged cargo ship became the symbol of the trade in illegally harvested timber.

The story of the illegal timber that was released in Mexico began at the end of 2015 in Iquitos, one of the poorest indigenous regions of the Peruvian Amazon. On 23 November, stevedores loaded part of the consignment of heavy wooden planks onto the Yacu Kallpa, which was destined for Mexico and the United States. The next day, a departure that was supposed to be the beginning of another routine journey along the Amazon River and across the Atlantic Ocean to the ports of Tampico and Houston, became the last.

In the early hours of 24 November 2015, representatives of the environmental crimes prosecutor arrived in Iquitos and shut down activity at the most important river port in Peru. The culmination of Operation Amazon was the stoppage of what is today the biggest shipment of illegally sourced wood in Peru: 1312 cubic meters—an amount equivalent to the freight capacity of 60 semi-trailers.

For logistical and economic reasons, Peruvian authorities were unable to unload the timber on the ship. So the Yacu Kallpa began its journey overseas, but with an order that prohibited the unloading its cargo. Her first port of call was the port of Manaus, in Brazil, where she detained by order of the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), which had warned authorities about the cargo’s illegal origin. Even so, the vessel continued to Rio Haina, in the Dominican Republic, where it was forced to remain for 15 days because it was unable to prove the origin of the timber. Some 593 packages of wood packages were unload here, but some of this cargo was classified as illegal, and was seized.

The General Consulate of Peru in Mexico repatriated the crew of Yacu Kallpa on February 27, 2016.

It was not the first trip: the background

The vessel’s crew reported to this investigation that at this port they suffered technical difficulties during the detention. There were also some crew changes. On its journey north, the ship also made other stops; first in Port of Spain, then Honduras, and finally an approach to Jamaica. According to the ship’s captain Alberto Scarpatti Espinoza, the latter occurred because of a missing communication device which had been forgotten during boarding. The Yacu Kallpa approached the Caribbean island "to obtain a telephone signal that would enable the crew to report where the ship was heading”.

On 26 January 2016 the Yacu Kallpa reached Mexico. There the authorities immobilized the vessel and, warned by the Peruvian prosecutor's office, "ordered the suspension of the transported forest product dispatch", according to documents from the Tampico Federal Public Ministry Agent in charge of the Tamaulipas Second Investigative Agency. By the time the timber arrived in Mexico, the authorities had already been informed that 96% of it was extracted from parts of the Amazon where logging was not permitted.

But this was not the first time that the Yacu Kallpa had sailed the Amazon towards the ports of the Atlantic. As part of this investigation, requests for information were submitted to the Port of Tampico, in Mexico, to identify in detail all the trips made by the vessel under either the name Yacu Kallpa, or with others such as Yacu Taski. At least 14 trips made from port of Iquitos to Tampico between 2013 and 2016 were identified.

This is the Yacu Kallpa boat route from the Port of Iquitos in Peru to the Port of Tampico in Mexico.

At the time of the prosecutor’s intervention the ship was under the administration of Yaku Taski S.A, a company responsible for cargo ships that transport wood from the center of the Peruvian Amazon to Mexico and the United States. This firm is one of three companies that constitute the Amazónica Peruana S.A. shipping agency, which specializes in sea and river transport services between Iquitos and the Gulf of Mexico according to information from its official website. The website, which is was taken down following the events in Tampico, contained the slogan “Four decades of experience".

Yacu Taski is the same company that in 2014 transported in a similar manner a shipment of timber that remains seized by US authorities in Houston because the importers have been unable to prove the legality of its origin. In that particular case, the Lacey Law was applied, a legal framework that prohibits the import of extracted products that do not comply with requirement to certify the origin.

Osinfor, from Peru, warned of the illegal origin of the wood that arrived in Mexico

  • On 19 February 2016, the Yacu Kallpa reached Mexico, anchored in the port of Tampico Dock 4 and was declared abandoned. Simultaneously, the Yaku Taski shipping agency declared bankruptcy.

    The vessel became property of the nation because "the shipping company has not accepted its administrative responsibility and maintenance for the boat, nor has it taken any action to claim the ship", according to the declaration of abandonment published in Mexico’s Federal Official Gazette on 29 April 2016. Once newly registered and carrying a Mexican flag, the ship will be adapted and converted into a training vessel.

    In Mexico the crew of 18 spent days on the ship without fuel, energy, or water. "We demand repatriation and payment of salaries. Long live Peru." This was the message painted in black letters on a red canvas and held by the crew while they survived thanks to donations of food from Mexicans citizens living in the port. Their message had the desired effect. On 27 February 2016 the Peruvian Consulate General in Mexico repatriated them. But their salaries still remain unpaid.

    01. From south to north: the Amazon timber trafficking trail