U.S. donates two new 33-foot patrol boats to coast guard

Guardacosta officers take one of the new boats out on a trial run Friday. President Laura Chinchilla also got a short trip on one of the boats. Photo: Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública/Carlos Eduardo Hidalgo Flores

The United States has invested $1.8 million in the Costa Rican Servicio Nacional de Guardacosta. The bulk of the donation is in the form of two new 33-foot aluminum launches.

The donation is part of the joint agreement between the two countries for patrol of maritime drug routes.

The boats were presented in a ceremony Friday in Caldera on the Pacific coast.

The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública said that the boats possess the highest technology. However, no weapons were visible on photos supplied by the ministry and Casa Presidencial.

The Pacific coast has been plagued with pirate and port thefts as well as the passage and frequently landings of drug boats from Colombia. Local fishermen have been the victims of robberies at sea, and some pirate gangs are known to have set up camps in estuaries. There have been some arrests.

The boats donated Friday are the first new vessels to be given Costa Rica. In the past, the United States has donated refurbished crafts. The donation includes a container load of spare parts for the two boats and several weeks of training.

Frequently coast guard boats are out of service awaiting repairs.

President Laura Chinchilla was at the ceremony for delivery of the boats. Casa Presidencial said that she characterized as insufficient the resources that Costa Rican crime fighters have. She said she was calling on the legislature to provide more resources.  There are several tax bills in the hopper awaiting action.

The president said that the sovereignty of the country was at risk from the threat of organized crime and narcotraffickers.

An example of that threat was reported Thursday on the Caribbean coast. Employees of a company that lost a boat to thieves and coastguard officers were fired upon not far from downtown Limón centro when they tried to go up an inlet in search of the boat. In all, there was one shooting incident and twice that armed men prevented a boat to continue up the public waterway. The coast guard and police took no action.

There also have been thefts from boats in the Limón harbor, and some expats involved in maritime work seem to think that drug smugglers have begun to use Caribbean routes more frequently to ship drugs. They also expressed concern about the unpatrolled area of Eastern Nicaragua and Honduras that have become havens for smugglers.

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