Costa Rica Breaks Ground on New Maritime Radar System for Isla de Coco

By Dialogo
August 28, 2013

SAN JOSÉ — Isla de Coco, one of the world’s largest uninhabited islands, achieved fame in 1993 as the backdrop for Stephen Spielberg’s blockbuster movie “Jurassic Park.” Twenty years later, the remote Costa Rican island is better known as a dropoff point for drug traffickers.
Officials gathered Aug. 14 on this nine-square-mile speck of land in the middle of the Pacific to celebrate the construction of a radar station they hope will end this infamous reputation.
“This is the first step in our new Maritime Control and Vigilance Strategy,” said Public Security Minister Mario Zamora. “Today is a historic day for the national security of Costa Rica, in a very complex area like Isla de Coco. At 340 miles off our coast, we are beginning to recuperate and expand our police presence to the very ends of our territory.”
The week before announcing the new radar facility, Costa Rica’s Public Security Ministry met with Interpol officials to create the National Steering Committee on Environmental Safety. The organization’s first priority is to develop electronic monitoring for Costa Rica’s coasts, information that can then be shared with Interpol.
“This new structure will facilitate working together and sharing information with help from Interpol’s resources to combat crime,” Deputy Interior Minister Marcela Chacón told reporters.
Costa Rica disbanded its military in 1948, leaving the country with no navy to patrol its 206,000 square miles of ocean territory. The Costa Rican Coast Guard and police now patrol the ocean, with assistance from other countries through joint patrolling agreements.
Isla de Coco’s waters are restricted because it is a national park. But the lack of an alert system has prevented officials from effectively tracking down trespassers and drug traffickers. The area is monitored by infrequent Coast Guard patrols and one patrol ship of park guards.
The new $2 million radar facility will let police and park rangers detect vessels within a 100-mile radius of the island, and to deploy units immediately, Zamora said, adding that 66 patrol boats will be used to patrol the area.
Officials expect that the new system, which will be operated by the Costa Rican Coast Guard, will be up and running by February of next year.
“This new equipment will allow us to send radar-directed patrols with two objectives: eliminating narcotics trafficking boats and illegal fishing boats,” Zamora said, adding that the new facility is the first of 17 to be built along the country’s Pacific and Caribbean coastlines.