APM Terminals confirmed that the container loaded with bananas with 1,600 kilograms of cocaine that were seized in a port in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, hidden in a shipment of bananas from Costa Rica, passed through the Terminal de Contenedores de Moín (TCM) – Moín Container Terminal – in Limón.
According to the company, although the terminal’s modern scanner was fully operational from the day it opened the terminal, it has not been put into operation because the Government of Costa Rica has not yet prepared the necessary monitoring center to carry out the task.
“We were ready that our scanner to serve the country from the day we opened the terminal. Although we have all the permits and technology available, at the moment the scanner is not operational, because the monitoring center has not yet been completed from where the government authorities will analyze the images,” Kenneth Waugh, general of APM Terminals, said in a statement.
He adds that the scanner acquired by the TCM, with a value of US$2.6 million dollars, is unique in its class in Latin America and through digital algorithms, allows the detection of products or substances such as weapons, drugs, money, radioactive material or pests, that are inside the containers.
The scanner has the ability to broadcast images in real time to the monitoring center and to countries such as the United States.
So, who is responsible (to blame) for this?
La Nacion, in its report, said it contacted the Ministerio de Seguridad Pública (MSP) and the Policía de Control de Drogas (PCD), in charge of the anti-drug surveillance at the Limón docks in the last decades.
The MSP said that “in relation to inquiries about scanners in ports, including that of APM Terminals and the monitoring center, we inform you that the body responsible for monitoring and executing the scanners project in ports is the Consejo Nacional de Facilitación del Comercio (CONAFAC) – Council National Trade Facilitation – coordinated by Comex.”
But, the head of the Comex was not available for comment, the press office telling La Nacion that Dyalá Jiménez is in Nicaragua.
The Junta de Administración Portuaria y de Desarrollo Económico de la Vertiente Atlántica (Japdeva) – Board of Port Administration and Economic Development of the Atlantic Coast – the autonomous government agency that runs the public ports in Limon, is washing its hands also.
Andrea Centeno, Japdeva president, said that in this specific area they are no involved. He said that in clause 6.22 of the concession contract, referring to risks of operation, operation and maintenance of the terminal, it is established that the risks during this period correspond exclusively to the concessionaire. In this case, APM terminals.
Government clears up things
In its report on Monday, Telenoticias, says the Ministries of Foreign Trade, Finance and Agriculture that the monitoring center for the operation of a scanner in APM Terminals is not part of the government’s commitments in the concession contract.
This is contrary to APM claims that the monitoring center is the government’s responsibility. Telenoticias says that, however, now the Government reports that the monitoring service is an inter-institutional effort, but not a commitment.
They clarify this, the government says now that the service is proposed as a complementary in the contract, that means that at this time it is voluntary and must be requested and paid for by the exporter to APM.
Old criticisms renewed
Since last year, the Cámara de Exportadores de Costa Rica (Cadexco) – Chamber of Exporters of Costa Rica – had spoken about the urgency of the Government putting the monitoring center into operation, because situations such as discovered on Friday directly affects the image of the country.
Laura Bonilla, president of Cadexco, said she regrets what happened and demands short-term solutions to prevent the shipping of illegal drugs via exports.
She affirms that currently, not only do they face a significant drop in exports, but also the deterioration of the country’s image in international markets due to the contamination of containers with drugs.
Bonilla says that this type of non-intrusive inspection (pass-through scanner) tool would prevent this type of crime. “It is unfortunate that at this point there is no operational and functioning monitoring system.”
According to Bonilla, the government has told them that it intends to put the control system into operation in January 2021. “In that period it will undoubtedly continue to open the door to more criminal acts that harm our international operations, causing us to cancel contracts, loss of customers and the cargo, as well as forcing us to assume legal processes for acts unrelated to our function due to lack of institutional dynamism,” she said in a statement.
While APM has its hands tied with respect to the scanners, the company says it is working with international and Costa Rican authorities to carry out the corresponding investigations into the discovery of the banana container loaded with cocaine.
“This container did go through our terminal. We are collaborating with the International and Local Police by providing all the information we collect about the container, from who was the driver that brought the cargo, which is the exporter and which shipping line was used,” Waugh added.
The old scanners nightmare
A decade ago, China donated scanners, but they never went into use.
Despite a huge investment in maintenance and repairs by the Ministerio de Hacienda (Ministry of Finance), the equipment remained embargoed, because the only thing that worked at that time was the trucks that contained the equipment and that were out in the open in the Hernán Garrón dock.
La Nacion reports that the last time they (old scanners) were discussed was in a pilot plan in Limón, in 2018, by the Servicio Fitosanitario del Estado (State Phytosanitary Service)
None of the three administrations that governed the country since the donated scanners arrived (Oscar Arias 2008-2010, Laura Chinchilla 2010-2014, and Luis Guillermo Solís 2014-2018) could put them to work.
Since 2012, ¢210 million colones has been invested for their maintenance and, at the end of 2015, 27 customs officers of the Policía de Control Fiscal and other government agencies were trained in their operation.