World (AP)

New ferry linking El Salvador and Costa Rica aims to cut shipping times, avoid border problems | AP News

New ferry linking El Salvador and Costa Rica aims to cut shipping times, avoid border problems | AP News

LA UNION, El Salvador (AP) — A new commercial ferry line moving through Central America began operating Thursday, directly connecting El Salvador and Costa Rica to the exclusion of Nicaragua and Honduras.

The Blue Wave Harmony sailed out of La Union, El Salvador, headed for Caldera, Costa Rica, a trip that its backers say will save shipping time, avoid border closures and eliminate delays at two extra border crossings between the two countries.

Officials launching the new service in El Salvador were diplomatic, avoiding direct references to the increasingly authoritarian government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.

Federico Anliker, president of El Salvador’s Executive Port Commission, said the new ferry will help ensure that traffic keeps flowing “when certain countries close their borders.”

In 2020, early in the coronavirus pandemic, Nicaragua closed its border with Costa Rica in protest of health measures implemented by Costa Rican authorities, specifically testing truck drivers for COVID-19.

In February, Nicaragua expelled more than 200 prisoners that human rights groups and foreign governments had described as political, putting them on a plane to the United States. Tens of thousands of Nicaraguans have fled to Costa Rica since Ortega’s government violently cracked down on national protests in 2018, leading to several rounds of sanctions from the U.S. government and the European Union.

While some business associations in El Salvador said they were optimistic about the ferry, transport companies downplayed it, saying it would not be viable because it would be more expensive than moving merchandise by land.

Ferry operators say it will be able to move some 100 tractor trailers over the 430 miles (691 kilometers) by sea in less than 24 hours.

“You avoid the red tape and waiting hours at the border crossings, you reduce the risks of theft, assaults, roadblocks and highway problems,” said Silvia Cuellar, president of COEXPORT, a private association of El Salvador exporters. “Above all it reduces the transit time, arriving to your destination in less time.”

Cuellar said it was not meant to isolate Nicaragua. “Here both modalities will coexist,” she said.

In fact, the ferry will be able to carry very little of the commerce that moves through the region. Cristian Flores, El Salvador’s presidential commissioner for strategic projects, said that the ferry would only be able to move about 3% to 5% of the existing transport market.

Marvin Altamirano, president of the Association of Nicaraguan Truck Drivers, told local press this week that the new ferry service was worrisome and an irresponsible act by El Salvador and Costa Rica, but downplayed its impact. He did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.