San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Watchdogs report fishing ships allegedly violating new port law in Puntarenas

A new agreement between Costa Rican fishing authorities and the Agriculture and Livestock Ministry (MAG) has caused seaport watchdogs to sound the whistle.

Jorge Ballestero, a biologist with the Marine Turtle Restoration Program (Pretoma) last week filmed two ships flying Belizean flags docking at Mariscos Wang’s private pier in the Pacific port city of Puntarenas. The ship allegedly was seen at the private pier less than two weeks after the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute (Incopesca) and MAG announced that they would close private docks to foreign vessels (TT, Dec. 17).

According to articles 211 and 212 of Costa Rica’s General Customs Law, introducing foreign products to private havens in order to evade customs inspections is illegal and punishable by fines of up to twice the value of the cargo.

Environmentalists claim that foreign ships deliberately avoid customs inspections in order to move contraband such as illegally removed shark fins (TT Dec. 17). Pretoma members have long pushed for foreign ships to dock at public ports where fishing and customs authorities can inspect the vessels.

“Simply, Incopesca is taking the steps to avoid the law once again, just as they did in 1998,” said Randall Arauz, president of PRETOMA.

Under the agreement between Incopesca and MAG, authorities would start requiring foreign ships to dock at a new $257,000 public dock in Barrio El Carmen in Puntarenas, where boats would undergo full cargo inspections by Costa Rican customs agents.

But, in a press release, Ballestero said that when he asked customs officials about the new agreement, “agents said they hadn’t received any official notification from Incopesca to not allow boats to pass through the private piers in Puntarenas.”

Marlin León, an Incopesca representative in Puntarenas, told The Tico Times that the ships were only temporarily docked at the Mariscos Wang private port while workers prepared the public dock in Barrio El Carmen to receive the freight from the two ships. She said the boats moved to the public dock once everything was ready, unloaded their cargo and underwent a full customs inspection.

León said a third foreign ship is expected to arrive this week in Puntarenas and told The Tico Times that authorities will require it to unload in Barrio El Carmen.

A team of Pretoma’s top watchdogs said they will monitor the arrival and keep a close eye on the ports to enforce the new agreement. 

“Incopesca insists that since the boat isn’t unloading, it’s not doing anything illegal,” Ballastero said. “If the boats aren’t unloading, then why are they anchored in the private docks?”

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