Mexican authorities said on Sunday they had confiscated a vessel in the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz and a warehouse in neighboring Tabasco along with storage tanks and trucks used by criminal groups to steal, transport and store hydrocarbons.

Fuel theft has been a problem in Mexico for decades but President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has enacted a range of measures to stamp out the practice and crush corruption and organized crime.

State oil company Petroleos Mexicanos said in a recent presentation that an estimated 106 billion pesos ($5.02 billion) had been saved since Lopez Obrador took office in December 2018.

Various anonymous complaints about criminal groups siphoning off hydrocarbons from pipelines in the area led to the operation, authorities said in a joint statement.

On September 11 near the city of Cardenas, Tabasco, officials found a clandestine tap on pipelines, authorities said.

Officials then tracked down a warehouse near a highway with 16 storage tanks and five trucks that authorities said were used to store and transport the stolen resources.

Several days later, officials located a vessel, called the Blue Commander, docked in the Pajaritos Lagoon in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz. Officials there surprised people loading hydrocarbon from the trucks onto the vessel.

Mexican authorities said 21 people were arrested while the Blue Commander was confiscated.

Mexico’s oil-producing southern states have been convulsed by criminal groups and political corruption scandals for years.

Across the country, criminal groups have tapped pipelines and other parts of the infrastructure.

($1 = 21.1270 Mexican pesos)

(Reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Peter Cooney)

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