Update Friday, 6:00 p.m.: A criminal court judge in San José sentenced three suspects captured off the coast of Quepos with one metric ton of cocaine to three months preventive detention on Friday, June 13, according to a statement from the courts.
The Costa Rican Coast Guard seized over 4 metric tons of cocaine off the Pacific coast on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, according to Public Security Minister Celso Gamboa, in what is likely the largest cocaine seizure ever in Costa Rica.
The minister estimated the value of the cocaine seized at over $28 million.
The U.S. Coast Guard provided intelligence assistance for the operations. On Monday, the Legislative Assembly voted to renew joint maritime patrols with the United States until Dec. 31, 2014.
The 4.146 metric tons were seized in three separate operations where authorities intercepted Costa Rican fishing vessels carrying 1,900 kilograms of cocaine near Punta Burica; 1,000 kilos off the coast of Quepos; and 1,246 kilos south of Cabo Matopalo. The fishermen could face 20 years in prison if convicted of drug trafficking.
The previous cocaine seizure record was for 3 metric tons in 2012.
Costa Rican fishermen are increasingly involved in large drug trafficking operations in the Pacific region, a known corridor for drugs headed north from South America. In May, two Tico fishermen were caught with nearly 2 metric tons of cocaine, and two others were caught in February with over 950 kilos.
“The profile of the suspects is very young people with criminal records. Something to emphasize is that now they’re no longer interested in the product [fish], we see that they bring it back rotten. They no longer go out to fish, they go out for cocaine,” Public Security Vice Minister Gustavo Mata said.
Gamboa suggested that the drugs originated in Colombia and were headed to the United States.
As of May 7, the Public Security Ministry has confiscated 7.2 metric tons of cocaine in 2014.