A remote port along the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica has long seen shipments of bananas and pineapples which conceal another product: cocaine. The port of Moín, near the city of Limón, has undergone a massive expansion that includes new scanning technology. So will traffickers continue to use it to transit drugs?
Just last October, six tons of cocaine hidden among bunches of bananas disembarked from Limón. The shipment arrived in Portugal and was then trucked to Malaga, Spain, where authorities seized the cocaine and arrested 16 people, El Pais reported.
Authorities called this one of the largest busts ever in Europe, and said the company behind the banana shipment had sent at least 70 containers of fruit from Costa Rica, to give the appearance of a legitimate enterprise.
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In June 2018, authorities at the port discovered 300 kilograms of cocaine in a shipping container’s ventilation ducts. The container was on a ship that flew the Italian flag and had arrived from the port of Turbo on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, La Nación reported. That same month, another ship which had left from Turbo was found to have some 400 kilograms of cocaine in suitcases hidden in its bow. The ship was registered in the Bahamas.
Two months later, 133 kilograms of cocaine was found among pineapples on a cargo ship that was destined for the port of Cork in Ireland. Authorities said the drugs were linked to an Irish criminal group known as the Kinahan cartel, The Irish Times reported.
Between 2012 and 2017, authorities seized nearly six tons of cocaine on shipping containers loaded at Moín, and another four tons of cocaine within cargo ships that had docked at the port, according to a 2017 investigation by La Nación.
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As Costa Rica’s role in the transshipment of drugs has increased, traffickers have exploited Limón’s remote and poorly managed port.
Cocaine discovered in cargo destined for Europe has spiked there over the last decade, according to the La Nación investigation in 2017. The reason for the increase is likely twofold.
First, European demand for cocaine continues to grow, with street prices higher than in the United States. Colombian traffickers, who have lost ground to Mexico’s cartels in moving drugs to the United States, have also made recent use of the European pipeline as coca cultivation booms.
Of the 22 ships docked in Moín that were found to have cocaine aboard, half had arrived from Colombia’s port of Turbo, according to the La Nación report.
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Second, the Moín port, which sends large amounts of produce to Europe, has been particularly vulnerable to smugglers. According to La Nación, the scanning equipment at the port has not functioned since 2016, meaning that shipping containers must be opened and inspected for drugs. Some 1.2 million containers pass through the port annually. In 2017, only 14,000 of them were inspected.
In March, a new terminal at Moín, which was built to accommodate the large “Panamax” shipping vessels, opened for business with entirely new scanning systems.
Still, Kenneth Waugh, director general of APM Terminals, which built and runs the terminal, said that even with this technology, there is still a need for the Costa Rican government to staff a command center where authorities can monitor and respond to scans and surveillance feeds around the port’s perimeter.
Whether the upgrades to the Moín port will cause traffickers to steer clear of it remains to be seen. They could simply continue to target the smaller Limón terminal, as they have for years.