Costa Rican authorities discovered more than 1.3 tons of cocaine off the coast of Matapalo, Puntarenas, near the Panamanian border, after four suspected Colombian drug traffickers tried to dump their cargo overboard Tuesday evening, according to Martín Arias, head of the Coast Guard.
At 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Coast Guard intercepted a fast boat, thanks to the cooperation of the U.S. Southern Command, Public Security Minister Mario Zamora said during a press conference Wednesday. A U.S. P3 surveillance plane caught sight of the boat Tuesday and alerted Costa Rican authorities.
In a daring move, the suspects attempted to ram their boat into the Coast Guard vessels to escape. Unsuccessful, the suspects began tossing packages of cocaine overboard and pulling several plugs laid into the floor of the vessel in an attempt to sink it. Coast Guard crew dove into the sea and plugged the holes in the boat with their own uniforms to keep the evidence afloat.
Initially, authorities only confirmed 100 kilograms of cocaine on board the Colombian boat, but officials believe the total will be much greater once the disposed-of packages are recovered. On Thursday morning, Arias confirmed another 1,100 kilos fished out of the water, bringing the total to approximately 1,240 kilos, or just over 1.3 tons.
Zamora told The Tico Times that the likely destination for the narcotics was Guatemala, considering the 27 barrels of fuel found on board. Authorities arrested four suspects.
The minister also acknowledged the importance of joint U.S.-Costa Rican patrols and additional support from the United States in combating drug trafficking.
“This operation shows once again the necessity for a country like Costa Rica, which does not have its own resources, to enjoy success [fighting drug trafficking] thanks to the resources of the U.S. Coast Guard, which was essential in this mission,” Zamora said.
The cocaine seizure took place a week after law enforcement from across the region met in Guatemala City for the Central American Security Conference to discuss Operation Martillo, an international mission to target drug trafficking along the isthmus’ Caribbean and Pacific coasts that started in 2012.
“The event in Guatemala reinforced the good relationship we have in terms of communications, information-sharing and cooperation between the region’s navies, and the leadership provided by Southern Command to support all the countries in the region,” Zamora said.
“Only multilaterally can we confront multilateral threats. If we [try to fight drug trafficking] alone, we’re not going to have a great impact. If we do it in an articulated and systematic manner, where information and intelligence is shared, we can have a positive impact,” he said.
During President Laura Chinchilla’s administration, which ends on May 8, law enforcement officers have seized over 55 short tons of cocaine.