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Pubished Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016, in Vol. 17, No. 163
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Casa Canada

Ministerio de Seguridad Pública/Humberto Ballestero
Not Colorado

A U.S. expat in San Antonio de Escazú may have thought mistakenly that he was in Colorado. Anti-drug police eliminated that misconception when they raided a well-kept marijuana-growing operation Wednesday.

Our story is HERE

Lawmakers get U.N. agreement on climate change
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The environmental ministry presented the Paris climate accord to lawmakers Wednesday for approval. This is the agreement Costa Rica and other nations approved last December which now needs legislative approval.

When the government moves to live up to its promise to curb climate change, the effort may have a big impact on life here.

Edgar Gutiérrez, the minister of Ambiente y Energía, and foreign minister Manuel González presented the agreement in the form of a bill

The agreement grows out of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Countries have agreed to hold the increase in global temperature to below 2 degrees C above pre-industrial times with the goal to hold the increase to no more than 1.5 degrees C.

Global temperatures have risen one degree C above what the U.N. Convention calls pre-industrial levels. No one really knows what the temperature was before coal became a major fuel, but climate scientists have picked the average in the last half of the 19th century as the pre-industrial average.

Scientists estimate that worldwide the average temperature has increased a degree C since the end of the 19th century.

The climate agreement is voluntary. Costa Rica is supposed to set its own goal, and there is no penalty for not meeting them.

The temperature here is well above pre-industrial levels and has been as long as the continents have had their current configuration.

However, government officials say that climate change is a grave threat to humanity and that Central America is particularly vulnerable. The government warned of economic loss through storms, flooding and drought.

The agreement presented to lawmakers Wednesday will not have a direct effect on life here. The country already has presented its proposed  nationally determined contribution to the accord. In fact, Costa Rica did so last September. This  is the document that contains specifics.

Costa Rica said it would keep net greenhouse gas emissions to 9.387 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030. The country also has promised to become carbon neutral by 2021, but that is unlikely.

To reach this goal, most observers say the country needs to reduce its dependency on petroleum based fuels and increase its programs for reforestation and payments for maintaining forest and vacant farmland.

Costa Rica already is having much of its electricity generated by hydro courses and not greenhouse gas-generating fuels.

Of course, all the regulations would depend on the governments that is in power in the future.

Costa Rica has lost a large amount of its territory since the end of the Ice Age. Sea levels have risen nearly 400 feet worldwide.

That increase in sea level continues, and some scientists say the rate is increasing. Since the end of the 19th century, the average sea level may have risen as much as 8 inches, although the amount is different in different places.

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A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


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Ministerio de Seguridad Pública/Humberto Ballestero
Police actually measure marijuana plants to create an accurate list of confiscated material.

U.S. expat held after hydroponics raid
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-drug police said that a confidential telephone call turned them on to a hydroponics marijuana cultivating operation in San Antonio de Escazú. Two persons, including a man identified as a U.S. expat, were detained.

The Ministerio de Seguridad Pública identified the expat by the last name of  Jarvis and said he was 60 years old. The man has been a long-time Costa Rican resident and holds permanent residency, the ministry said.

A second man, identified by the last name of  León, also was detained, the ministry said. He is 33. Neither man has a police record, the ministry said.

Anti-drug agents said they found 61 plants, some as tall as 1.79 meters, just shy of six feet. There also were quantities of processed marijuana.

There have been several raids of similar operations in the same locality this year.

Conservation award honors Jairo Mora

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Society for Conservation Biology said Wednesday it has named an award for bravery in marine conservation after Jairo Mora Sandoval. He is the turtle protector who was murdered on a beach in Moín in 2013.

“The Jairo Mora Sandoval Award is the first award that recognizes and honors the work that dedicated, but all-too-often anonymous people do for our planet, while potentially putting their lives at risk,” said Mel Cosentino, a member of the society’s marine section.

The award includes a financial contribution to an organization associated with the awardee. The inaugural award is being made to the Asociación Jairo Mora Sandoval, which was set up by Jairo’s family to continue his conservation work, said the society.

Zika cases increase slightly in a week

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country’s zika toll took an eighty-patient jump, according to statistics released Wednesday by the Ministerio de Salud. Jacó and its canton of Garabito continue to lead the statistics.

The statistics show 135 cases in Garabito and Jacó with 54 in Orotina and 50 in Puntarenas Centro. Esparza has 43, Santa Cruz 41, Quepos 37 and Carrillo 24. The total reported Wednesday was 521 cases. Last week the number was 441.There were 124 cases in Garabito then.

Except for a few cases in Central Valley communities, Limón Centro and Sarapiquí zika is confined to the Pacific coast. By contrast there have been nearly 13,000 reported cases of dengue this year.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016, Vol. 17, No. 163
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Caja collectors bring in $16.2 million from unreported employees
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation’s health and pension system said it has recovered 8.8 billion colons from employers who did not report or who under reported the incomes of workers.

That is about $16.2 million. The recovery involved 30,133 employees, said the agency, the  Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social.

The payments came after inspectors caught the errors. The employers had to pay what they owed with interest, said the Caja.

The Caja has a collection department, and there is about $11 million still uncollected as of July, said the agency. That amount represents about 11 percent of what was reported and owed.

The Caja has a long way to go. It reported last week that 15
percent of employers and 46 percent of independent workers were behind in their payments. That means 13,215 employees and 98,129 independent workers.

That does not include the many persons who work off the books. An estimated  41.8 percent of the nation’s workforce is in the informal economy, which means they do not pay Caja charges and probably do not pay income taxes either.

These are not necessarily low-salaried migrant workers. Many sportsbook employees fall into this category as well as a number of business executives. Gambling house workers sometimes receive payment through foreign debit cards that they use at local automatic tellers. Some top executives are paid in their home country as a way of ducking Caja charges and Costa Rican income tax.

In the meantime, the Caja is in financial difficulty, and there are continual problems with supplies, medicines and wait lists.

Court president wants more resources to hear crooks' phone calls
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The head of the nation's high court wants more money for its eavesdropping program that is handled from a 24-hour a day facility.

The request came from Zarela Villanueva Monge, the president of the Corte Suprema de Justicia, when she met Wednesday with President Luis Guillermo Solís and lawmakers.

She said that the center needs more employees and technological resources to improve its capacity in the fight

against organized crime. The telephone tapping system can be used in the investigating of drug cases and other organized crime cases, such as human trafficking, kidnapping and money laundering.

Tapping a telephone requires a judge’s order.

But the court president said that advances in technology require that the four-year-old center also change its systems by 2018.

The summary of the meeting by the Poder Judicial did not give any statistics or cite any cases that have used the center.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016, Vol. 17, No. 163
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Just say no to one sugary drink a day, nutrition expert says
By the Virginia Polytechnic Institute
and State University news staff

Those sugary drinks likely play a large role in the obesity epidemic, but new research shows that just substituting one sugary drink a day with water can reduce weight and improve health.

“Regardless of how many servings of sugar-sweetened beverages you consume, replacing even just one serving can be of benefit,” said Kiyah J. Duffey, an adjunct faculty member of human nutrition, foods, and exercise at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Sugary drinks have been linked to a variety of maladies, including obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Sugary drinks should not account for more than 10 percent of calorie intake, according to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Swapping just one 236-milliliter sugary drink with the equivalent amount of water can be helpful.

“We found that among U.S. adults who consume one serving of sugar-sweetened beverages per day, replacing that drink with water lowered the percent of calories coming from drinks from 17 to 11 percent,” Ms. Duffey said. “Even those who consumed more sugary drinks per day could still benefit from water replacement, dropping the amount of calories coming from beverages to less than 25 percent of their daily caloric intake.”

Furthermore, people who consume have been shown to often have diets focused on meats and processed foods, according to a 2015 study in which Ms. Duffey was involved.

That study linked healthier, low-calorie drinks with healthier diets with more vegetables and fruit and less processed foods.

The researchers noted that diet drinks are healthier alternatives to their sugary counterparts, but research shows people who drink them tend not to have overall diets as healthy as water drinkers.

The study was published in the journal Nutrients.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016, Vol. 17, No. 163
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Axiom new ad

U.S. election may hinge
character and competency

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The choice of many voters in this year’s U.S. presidential election could hinge on a relatively simple calculation.

Do they embrace the prospect of change as represented by Republican Donald Trump or opt for the stability and temperament offered by Democrat Hillary Clinton?

At the moment, public opinion polls suggest a growing number of Americans may be choosing for the latter.

This stark choice between change and temperament has been highlighted on the campaign trail where Mrs. Clinton has ramped up her attacks on Trump’s character and fitness to be president.

“There is no doubt that Donald Trump is temperamentally unfit and totally unqualified to be president of the United States and commander in chief,” Mrs. Clinton said to cheering supporters during a recent rally in Scranton, Pennsylvania, one of several key swing states where Trump appears to be losing ground in the latest polls.

Mrs. Clinton was joined at the rally by Vice President Joe Biden, a Scranton native, who said Trump was “totally, thoroughly unqualified” for the White House.

Mrs. Clinton has surged in recent polls in part because of growing voter concern about Trump's temperament.

A recent Bloomberg Politics poll found 56 percent of those surveyed believe that Mrs. Clinton does have the right temperament, while only 31 percent said the same of Trump.

There were similar results in a Monmouth University Poll in which 27 percent of those surveyed said Trump had the right temperament, while 67 percent said no. In the same poll, 61 percent said they believed Mrs. Clinton did have the right temperament while 34 percent said she did not.

But those same polls also show many voters continue to distrust Mrs. Clinton. Monmouth found that only 27 percent of those asked believe Mrs. Clinton has been honest about her use of a private email server while secretary of State, while 64 percent do not.

The Trump campaign is well aware of the Clinton effort to render him unfit, and Trump tried to turn the tables during a recent foreign policy speech in Ohio.

​"Incident after incident proves again and again that Hillary Clinton lacks the judgment, as said by Bernie Sanders, stability and temperament and the moral character to lead our nation," Trump said.

Like Mrs. Clinton, Trump is also relying on surrogates to help make his case, including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

“In almost every area that we can think of, things are worse today than they were on the day Hillary Clinton walked into the State Department,” Giuliani said at Trump’s Ohio rally.

Trump could also benefit from the public’s desire for change. On average, about two-thirds of Americans polled say the country is on the wrong track.

At the same time, President Barack Obama’s approval ratings have risen into the low to mid-50s, fairly strong for a two-term incumbent and a factor that could help Mrs. Clinton.

But when it comes to some basic poll numbers, both candidates suffer from a negative image that could limit their appeal, according to Gallup pollster Frank Newport.

"Donald Trump has about 63 percent of the American public who, when we asked them, said their opinion of him is negative. Hillary Clinton right now has about 55 or 56 percent of Americans who say their opinion of her is negative. So her unfavorable is not quite as high," Newport said.

Many Republicans argue that Trump is long overdue for a shift away from controversial rhetoric toward a more disciplined effort aimed at widening his appeal, a kind of political makeover.

“He now needs to make the turn, and it does not mean moderating or pulling punches,” said Republican analyst Scot Faulkner, who worked in the Reagan administration. “It just means that he needs to broaden his appeal to better engage the American public.”

Another critique is that Trump needs to focus more on Mrs. Clinton and less on picking distracting fights with the media and others.

“He has a really hard time of just sort of backing down from some sort of fight or argument, and it has caused him to keep a lot of controversies alive that a different kind of campaign could easily deal with,” University of Virginia analyst Kyle Kondik said.

Trump shook up his campaign leadership team again this week in hopes of a political rebound, tapping Stephen Bannon of the conservative news Web site Breitbart to be his campaign’s chief executive officer and longtime Republican pollster and strategist Kellyanne Conway to be his campaign manager.

Campaign chairman Paul Manafort will stay with the campaign and retain his title, but it is unclear what his future role will be.

Trump made it clear that a radical transformation of his blunt style is not going to happen anytime soon.

He told a Milwaukee television station he will remain loyal to the voters who embraced his tell-it-like-it-is approach in the Republican primaries.

“I do not want to change. Everyone talks about, 'Oh, when are you going to pivot?' I do not want to pivot. I mean, you have to be you,” Trump said.

Mrs. Clinton has built a steady lead in recent national and key state polls including Virginia, Florida, Colorado and New Hampshire. She leads Trump nationally by a margin of 7 to 8 percent based on an average of several recent surveys.

But Mrs. Clinton appears to be taking nothing for granted.

She told supporters in Philadelphia not to be taken in by the latest polling: “Do not be complacent, my friends, because even though we are doing fine right now, I am not taking anybody, anywhere for granted.”

Trump’s next best chance to reset the campaign may not come until the first presidential debate in late September, more than a month away.

By that time, early voting will have begun in some states, adding to the Trump campaign’s difficulties in trying to turn around his political fortunes.

In a twist of irony, Trump may have to look for inspiration to the father of one of his former rivals, former president George H. W. Bush, who was able to overcome a 17-point lead by Democrat Michael Dukakis and win the 1988 presidential election.

This year, of course, Trump vanquished the former president's son, Jeb Bush, in the Republican primaries.

Experts says hacking votes
is possible but very difficult

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

As recently as 2014, you could drive into the parking lot at certain Virginia polling places, connect to the voting machines inside by Wi-Fi and have your way with the vote tallies.

That gaping hole in election security has been plugged. Virginia dropped these machines last year.

But with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump suggesting the November election may be rigged, and security officials blaming Russia for a politically sensitive hack of the Democratic National Committee, election cybersecurity is getting a closer look.

The risks are real, experts say, though it's another question how likely they are to happen.

"It's possible for a sophisticated attacker to hack the machines and start stealing votes," said David Wagner, a University of California at Berkeley computer science professor.

Wagner worked on a 2007 statewide review of California's voting system. "Every voting machine that's been studied is susceptible," he says.

"It would be challenging," he adds. "It would require considerable technical sophistication. And it would require someone to be physically present in each county, tampering with at least one machine. This is not something that some random teenager can do over a weekend. It's not something that can be done from across the world over the internet."

But, he adds, "If you want to talk about a nation-state-level adversary, yes, they're probably capable."

The best defense against fraud is a system that retains a hard-copy ballot, plus a post-election audit to spot-check for irregularities.

These systems are on the rise. This November, three-quarters of voters across the U.S. will cast ballots on systems that retain a hard copy of their choices, according to elections watchdog group Verified Voting. Twenty-six states mandate post-election audits.

But that means one-quarter are voting on systems with no paper copy, and nearly half of the 50 states don't require audits.

Still, Wagner says, "at this point, I'm not alarmed." While a lot more can and should be done to improve cybersecurity, he adds, "we've come a long way in protecting our elections."

If attackers want to hack voting machines, they'd have to get to them first. "Most of them are under lock and key," says Denise Merrill, Connecticut secretary of state and president of the National Association of Secretaries of State.

Usually under two keys, in fact: one for a Republican representative and one for a Democrat. Both are required to unlock the machine.

Local jurisdictions control their elections, and there are more than 7,000 jurisdictions nationwide, with widely varying equipment and procedures.

While that means widely varying levels of security, it also means an attack on one jurisdiction would not affect the others.

"Certainly, someone who is really determined and had a massive operation could perhaps do something," Merrill says. "But even then, it would have to be in very specific places."

Verified Voting President Pam Smith says the focus on the risks in the election system is a good thing. She says more states are already moving toward paper ballots and increased physical security of voting equipment.

"I think what will happen as we go forward is that people will want to have any and every extra tool they can to eliminate any lingering concerns or questions that people might have," she adds.

On a conference call Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson offered state election officials help in finding and fixing election cybersecurity risks.

The department is considering designating election systems as critical infrastructure, placing them alongside the electrical grid, water systems and other sectors as essential to national security.

There's one other check available to anyone concerned about election fraud, Ms. Smith adds. "It's not too late to sign up to be a poll worker. You can learn more about it from the inside out and see what some of the safeguards are."

Fire near San Bernardino
remains uncontrolled threat

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A Southern California wildfire raged unchecked in thick brush Wednesday after destroying an unknown number of houses near a highway corridor between Los Angeles and Las Vegas and forcing as many as 80,000 residents to flee their homes, officials said.

The so-called Blue Cut Fire ignited Tuesday in the mountainous Cajon Pass and quickly ballooned to 30,000 acres (12,140 hectares), putting firefighters on the defensive as they made a stand in front of homes and businesses.

The blaze is the latest in an intense series of wildfires this year in the U.S. West, where years of drought have dried trees and brush.

"It's to the point where explosive fire growth is the new normal this year," Glenn Barley, a fire chief with the San Bernardino unit of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said at a news conference Wednesday.

Given the dryness and ongoing warm weather, U.S. government forecasters have said Southern California faces a potential threat from major wildfires until December.

The Blue Cut Fire, named for a narrow gorge north of San Bernardino where it started, was zero percent contained as it threatened the town of Wrightwood near a ski resort and other communities in a partly rural area, authorities said.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Authorities said they were forced to close part of Interstate 15, which runs through the Cajon Pass between Las Vegas and the Los Angeles area, and to order about 80,000 residents to evacuate.

Thick columns of smoke blocked out the sky above mountain peaks, as horse owners in the area scrambled to lead their animals onto trailers.

Local television station KNBC showed video of several homes engulfed in flames. Officials confirmed houses were gutted by the blaze but could not say how many.

"There will be a lot of families that come home to nothing," San Bernardino County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig told reporters.

The Los Angeles Times reported hundreds of residents of Wrightwood were staying in their houses, despite dire warnings from authorities.

"In my 40 years of fighting fire, I've never seen fire behavior so extreme as it was yesterday," Michael Wakoski, the incident commander on the fire, said Wednesday.

About 600 miles (970 kms.) to the northwest, the so-called Clayton Fire was 40 percent contained Wednesday morning after charring 4,000 acres in and around the community of Lower Lake and destroying 175 homes and businesses.

Baton Rouge flood impact
includes 11 persons who died

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The death toll rose to 11 Wednesday as Louisiana's capital continues to reel from unprecedented flooding.

More than 40,000 homes have been damaged following a weekend of record-breaking rainfall in Baton Rouge. Federal Emergency Management Agency officials and volunteers have been on the ground for a few days, as have Red Cross volunteers.

"It's safe to say that the state in general is very accustomed to hurricanes," Craig Cooper of the Red Cross said. "But this was a massive rain incident, and what we've learned is that in many, many areas these were communities that have either never been flooded or they have to remember back 30 years."

Cooper warned that the situation in Baton Rouge is still rapidly evolving as parishes continue to be added to the list of federal emergency areas, damage is assessed and the death toll climbs.

"In many places, flood waters have receded," he said. "Initially, from a logistical standard, what that means is the relief operations can move more freely, the vehicles that will bring supplies into the Baton Rouge area, they can use the interstate system."

More than 30,000 people have been rescued since Friday.

Most of those rescues were made by the National Guard and state authorities, but city residents with boats, trucks and kayaks have taken it upon themselves to help out.

"A tremendous response by the people of Louisiana taking care of their own," Gov. John Bel Edwards said Tuesday.

"It's wonderful to see. It's very gratifying," Cooper said. "The Red Cross is very proud of the partnerships we have with non-government organizations, as well as public agencies and things like that, but when it comes down to it, it's people helping people at every level."

In addition, Cooper noted, people from around the country have traveled to Baton Rouge to volunteer for the Red Cross.

The vast physical and emotional damage caused by the floods has lent itself to looters and scams. A curfew was imposed in East Baton Rouge from 10 p.m. Tuesday to 6 a.m. Wednesday following reports of looting.

Additionally, Edwards warned residents Tuesday that federal employees do not ask for payment for services, and to be wary of scams.

The list of affected areas of Baton Rouge approved for federal emergency funding has been growing since Sunday. More than 70,000 people have registered for individual assistance under the federal disaster declaration, the White House said Wednesday.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016, Vol. 17, No. 163
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Latin news from the BBC up to the minute
U.S. Fed reported split on interest hike

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. Federal Reserve officials are generally upbeat about the nation's economy, but remain split on whether an interest rate increase is needed soon.

Minutes from the Fed’s July policy meeting shows consensus that labor market conditions have improved since May, and that economic activity continues to expand at a moderate pace. But while some members insist that continued low interest rates could hurt financial stability, some policymakers argue that more signs of recovery are needed before the central bank resumes the process of tightening or normalizing interest rates.

The one clear area of agreement was that more data is needed before the Fed starts raising its short-term lending rate. Among the areas of concern: inflation, which remains below the committee’s 2 percent target rate, partly due to declines in energy prices.

Another area of concern: consumer spending. Although household spending has grown, business investment remains soft.

Major U.S. stock indexes, which had been trading lower Wednesday in anticipation of the Fed’s comments, rose slightly after the release of the July minutes.

The Fed last raised its benchmark funds rate, the rate it charges other banks on overnight loans, last December from near zero to a range between 0.25 and 0.5 percent.

Fed watchers had expected at least two rate hikes in 2016, but slower growth overseas and market shocks, including the recent Brexit vote in Britain, gave U.S. central bank officials reasons for pause.

Economists who were interviewed said the next rate increase could happen either in September or December.

Brazil takes U.S. swimmers off  jet

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Two members of the U.S. swim team, Gunnar Bentz and Jack Conger, were stopped and detained at the Rio de Janeiro International Airport as they tried to travel home Wednesday, the U.S. Olympic Committee confirmed.

“We can confirm that Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz were removed from their flight to the United States by Brazilian authorities,” committee spokesman Patrick Sandusky said in a statement. “We are gathering further information.”

The move by police comes as they continue to investigate claims made by fellow swimmer Ryan Lochte that the three, along with teammate James Feigen, were robbed earlier this week by men who identified themselves as police officers.

Earlier Wednesday a judge issued an order preventing Lochte and Feigen from leaving the country, stating that they gave conflicting testimonies about being robbed earlier this week.

But Lochte's father said his son returned to the U.S. before the order was issued Wednesday.

Lochte and the three other American swimmers said they were robbed at gunpoint early Sunday by thieves posing as police officers while the swimmers were returning to the athletes’ village by taxi after a night out at the French Olympic team’s hospitality house. The outing was several hours after Olympic swimming competition ended Saturday night at the Rio Games.

Now, Brazilian officials are suggesting that the U.S. swimmers may not have told the whole truth and need to answer questions.

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From Page 7:

Florida firm starts new cargo link to Limón

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Florida-based Crowley Maritime Corp. said Wednesday that it is launching a new, weekly, fixed-day container shipping service between Jacksonville and Costa Rica.

The two container ships in the service, which will call at the Jacksonville Port Authority’s Talleyrand Terminal, will make port calls in Jacksonville on Thursdays, Port Everglades, Florida, Fridays, and arrive in Puerto Limón Wednesdays, the firm said.

The return trip will be from Limón on Friday for what the firm said was an attractive end-of-the-work-week sailing for perishables shippers.     

“We are pleased to bring this new service to the market beginning today from Jacksonville,” said Steve Collar, Crowley senior vice president and general manager, international liner services, in a release. “We are confident this service enhancement will add a new dimension to our portfolio of Latin America services and bring increased efficiency and savings to our customers.”

“With our warehousing and cross-dock operations in Jacksonville, we are well situated to funnel cargo originating outside Florida, to Costa Rica, saving customers time and reducing their overall landed costs,” said Frank Larkin, Crowley senior vice president and general manager, logistics. “We can swing loads from trailers to ocean containers here, reducing equipment re-positioning expenses, and save the additional inland transportation costs that come with the traditional movement of cargo to South Florida.”