UN helps Panama strengthen maritime security to curb illicit trade

Counterfeit designer shirts. Photo: David Shankbone

22 June 2010 – In an effort to strengthen maritime security in Central America, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and Panama today launched a joint programme intended to prevent illicit and counterfeit goods from entering markets through sea ports.

The programme includes the launch by UNODC of the Centre of Excellence on Maritime Security in Panama City and the opening of a regional office for Central America, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, with financial support from the Panamanian Government.

The centre will help identify threats to maritime security and serve as a resource of expertise, training, data collection and analysis. UNODC’s new operational hub in Panama City will also allow the organization to provide more effective advisory services to countries in the region.

The flow of narcotics from the Andean countries to North America is a key concern.

“Seventy per cent of crimes in Central America are directly linked to drug trafficking,” said Juan Carlos Varela, Panama’s Foreign Minister. “This reinforced focus on maritime security will help the governments in the region to tackle the common threat of organized crime,” he said.

Most of the world’s trade is carried out in shipping containers, meaning that containers are also the main delivery methods for illicit goods, UNODC’s Deputy Executive Director Francis Maertens said during a visit to the port of Balboa in Panama. “Better container security can raise the risks and lower the benefits to organized crime,” said Mr. Maertens.

Less than two per cent of the 420 million shipping containers used globally every year are inspected, creating major opportunities for drug traffickers and smugglers to conceal illicit cargo, according to UNODC.

Improving container security in Panama’s ports is a priority since more than 11 million containers pass through the Panama Canal every year.

Since joining UNODC’s World Customs Organization Global Container Control Programme last year, Panama has significantly increased the number of seizures of illicit goods hidden in containers.

“Thanks to improved intelligence and information-sharing, in just seven months Panamanian authorities have managed to confiscate 146 containers transporting drugs and counterfeit goods, with a value of over $20 million,” said Mr. Maertens.

Highly sophisticated concealment methods are part of the problem, but law enforcement agents at ports are often hampered by inter-institutional mistrust, corruption, complex port processes, lack of resources and dangerous conditions.


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