U.S. Navy boat with prisoners does not have OK to dock

The security ministry released this photo of the María Canela Tuesday. The photo is most likely from the file after the boat was stopped by Ecuadorian officials in 2001.

A U.S. Navy guided missile frigate is heading to Puntarenas with five captured Costa Ricans, but the legislature has not acted to give the boat permission to dock.

The vessel, the USS Boone is believed to have in tow a Costa Rican fishing boat that was boarded Sunday and from 1,100 to 1,500 kilos of cocaine were discovered.

A file photo of the USS Boone. Photo: U.S. Navy

Under terms of a patrol agreement with Costa Rica, Ticos seized at sea are turned over to the justice system here along with a sample of the confiscated drug. The boat also carried a Nicaraguan and three Colombians. They are headed to the United States for trial.

The Asamblea Legislativa adjourned Tuesday night without taking any action on the long-standing request by Mario Zamora Cordero to allow U.S. ships on drug patrol to dock at Costa Rican ports for six months. He is the security minster. The issue has been hotly debated in the legislature although approval has been routine for years.

This is the same type of request that caused the Cuban news service, Prensa Latina, to announce a year ago that 46 warships and 7,000 Marines were going to do drug patrols in Costa Rica. The misinformation still can be found on various Web sites.

The Coast Rican boat, the 48-foot María Canela was captured 150 miles south of the border between Costa Rica and Panamá. The U.S. Embassy said this was the first Costa Rican boat detained as a suspected drug vessel since 2009.

The Minsterio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública emphasized that the Pacific coast is about to be hit with high seas and that a small boat alert had been issued. The ministry said that this might make docking difficult for the U.S. ship and the fishing boat unless the legislature acts. Minutes of Tuesday’s legislative session do not show that the topic ever was mentioned.

The U.S. Embassy said that the 453-foot Boone was first on the list of U.S. ships seeking permission to land. An earlier permission expired June 30.

The María Canela left Puntarenas ostensibly to fish, and it traveled to the area around the Galapagos Islands.

The ministry identified the Costa Ricans detained by the last names of Núñez Núñez, Moreira González, Rivas Castrillo, Zuñiga Vargas and the captain as Campos Bolandi.

The María Canela has been in trouble before. In 2001 it was detained by Ecuadorian officials for illegal shark fishing. It vanished from Puerto Ayora in the Galapagos the following year just as officials there were going to auction it off, said the ministry. Walter Navarro, a vice minister, estimated the boat was worth about $280,000.

The Boone has been on frequent patrol in the Pacific to haul drug shipments. It has made similar confiscations. The boat carries two helicopters.

The U.S. Southern Command said that the Boone is on a six-month operation called Southern Seas 2011 to assist in training with navies of other countries. It was in Chile in June.

Presumably if the legislature does not act, U.S. sailers will have to transfer the five men and part of the cargo at sea to a Costa Rican boat.

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