Representation Image Small fishing boat dendoktoor/ Pixabay

Nine men who were working at the fishing port of Esmeraldas were killed on Tuesday, and now cops in Ecuador are hunting for approximately 30 gunmen.

The gunmen arrived by sea and land and seemed to fire on the workers indiscriminately, reported BBC.

While some of the victims were boatmen, others hauled cargo. Some also worked in the warehouses on the water's edge, where fish and shrimp are stored. The youngest who died was 28 years old and the oldest was 79.

The nine men may have been targeted because they had paid "protection money" to a rival gang, said Ecuador's Interior Minister Juan Zapata.

Violence related to gangs has been on the rise in Ecuador, with many of them engaging in extortion. They even threaten local businesses and force them to pay them regular fees for their "protections." If they don't pay, their businesses or the owners are attacked.

A video was shared on social media that showed a boat full of men reaching the port. Many shots were heard ringing out while people on the dockside fled in panic.

At least 180 rounds had been fired during the attack, said police.

Even though the victims worked in small-scale fishing businesses in Esmeraldas, the port is also important for drug traffickers. They use it to launch speed boats full of cocaine.

The port is located on Ecuador's northern border with Colombia. Many of the gangs go back and forth across the border to make sure they don't get caught by security forces.

A state of emergency in Esmeraldas was declared by President Guillermo Lasso last month. It is still in place, due to violence and rise in crime, as per Telesur.

According to Digital Journal, the murder rate in the country has almost doubled from 14 per 100,000 citizens in 2021 to 25 in 2022.

Lasso assumed the presidency in 2019, and since then there has been a reduction in budget. It has resulted in increased insecurity and the consolidation of criminal groups that are connected to drug trafficking.

Congress is currently processing an impeachment against the President, who has been accused of links to the Albanian mafia and embezzlement.

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