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Costa Rican and U.S. Coast Guards Conduct Joint Training in Fight against Organized Crime

Costa Rican and U.S. Coast Guards Conduct Joint Training in Fight against Organized Crime

By Geraldine Cook
April 22, 2016

Members of the Costa Rican Coast Guard Service (SNG) conducted training with officers from the U.S. Coast Guard, enhancing the SNG’s efforts to interdict drugs, weapons, and other contraband.

The U.S Coast Guard recently conducted maritime interdiction training with 30 Costa Rican National Coast Guard Service (SNG) officers to enhance their efforts in the fight against drug trafficking and transnational organized crime. SNG personnel attended the Specialized Interdiction and Ship Boarding Course from April 4th-15th in the Pacific Ocean in zones with the highest narco-trafficking rate.

“[We learned] where to look to seize shipments of cocaine, heroin, weapons, money, persons or even terrorists,” Colonel Martín Arias, SNG’s director, told Diálogo
. “We are very focused on persons suspected of being members of any terrorist group.” The program also focused on human rights, handling weapons, boarding ships, searching for hidden compartments, and interdicting vessels suspected of smuggling drugs.

For this training course and others, the officers from the SNG, an agency under the Ministry of Public Security, used a fishing boat – known as the Yorleny II – that security forces seized from drug traffickers in November 2007. It had been carrying nearly 2,000 kilograms of cocaine in hidden compartments.

“The participants needed to find the cargo hidden on the boat,” Col. Arias said. “They boarded the vessel and performed ownership checks on the suspect crew. They learned a lot.”

The officers were selected through a rigorous process. In addition to having completed the Coast Guard course at the country’s National Coast Guard Academy, participants also had to have experience at police posts along the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, under the supervision of personnel specializing in maritime interdiction.

“Thanks to these experienced officers from the U.S. Coast Guard, our young officers learned new skills and reinforced those skills they already had,” Col. Arias stated. “Our personnel learned the best techniques from the U.S. Coast Guard. These new techniques will help the maritime officers become better able to neutralize drug trafficking at sea through successful operations. The U.S. Coast Guard officers were very happy with how quickly our personnel learned the material, which saved the instructors a lot of time.”

Deepening Costa Rica-U.S. cooperation

Joint training promotes cooperation between the United States and Costa Rica in their fight against international drug trafficking at sea. The U.S. Navy offers the maritime interdiction course to the National Coast Guard Service once a year. Additionally, Colombia’s National Navy provides support through two specialized courses on boarding vessels. The cooperation has not only allowed SNG personnel to specialize in maritime interdiction, but also to focus on intelligence, firearms, instructor training, communications, maintenance of interceptor ships, and the maintenance and repair of engines, among other areas.

“We train 90 percent of our personnel every year in specialized courses; our people are highly trained,” Col. Arias explained. “The young service members who complete the maritime interdiction course are going straight to interdiction units so they can put what they’ve learned into practice in the fight against transnational crime.”

Many of the training activities are conducted under the plan for Triangular Cooperation in Security Matters for Central America and the Caribbean, an agreement covering training in the fight against drug trafficking and the monitoring of sea and airports in Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama. These agreements respect the sovereignty and jurisdiction of the signatory countries while stopping narco-traffickers.

“Colombian authorities provide assistance through their instructors and professionals, who train our young service members,” Col. Arias said. “The United States finances the activity, and the beneficiaries are the Costa Rican students who can take specialized training courses. The courses last for between 15 and 30 days.”

Seizing narcotics

In the first quarter of 2016, Costa Rican security forces seized over five tons of drugs, three of which were cocaine, after seizing over 17,000 kilograms of cocaine and dismantling 134 criminal organizations, including 34 that operated internationally, in 2015, according to the Costa Rican Drug Institute.

Costa Rica’s government plans to increase its maritime fleet with the help of the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) to prevent narcotrafficking groups and transnational criminal organizations from using the Central American nation as a drug transshipment point
. “Our territorial waters are quite extensive,” Col. Arias said. “We need long-range vessels to be able to patrol our waters. We are negotiating for patrol boats over 100 feet through SOUTHCOM, and we expect to hear news shortly. These patrol boats would mean that the National Coast Guard Service could take responsibility over the areas now monitored by U.S. cutters.”

Cooperation with the United States has helped Costa Rica train its security forces to fight drug trafficking. Joint training has has also contributed to closer cooperation between the countries in search and rescue operations for shipwrecks and an increase in the efforts to guarantee fishing and environmental protection in national and territorial waters, according to the Costa Rican Legislative Assembly’s website.