30 June 2011 - The port of Panama has seized more than 115 containers (110 holding counterfeit goods worth millions of dollars and five holding cocaine and heroin) under the Container Control Programme of UNODC and the World Customs Organization (WCO) since October 2009, when the Programme was established.
In total, approximately 1,200 kg of cocaine have been seized, the most recent seizure having been carried out on 16 June 2011, when Container Control Programme officials at Manzanillo Port seized 174 kg of cocaine hidden inside a container filled with suitcases and lamps en route from the Colón Free Zone to Rotterdam. Two months previously, authorities in the Panamanian Port of Balboa had uncovered 119 kg of cocaine hidden among instant coffee containers destined for Gdynia, Poland. Several caches of priceless cultural artefacts and archaeological treasures were also recently found hidden in shipments of household goods from Ecuador.
"The port of Panama - including the Panama Canal and four container terminals - is a highly strategic maritime hub, servicing 11 million containers a year, and is by far the largest segment in the Container Control Programme. UNODC hopes to replicate its success and to foster alliances, cooperation and information exchange with Costa Rica and Guatemala (Puerto Barrios and Puerto Quetzal), where UNODC has expanded the programme", said UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov during a visit to the Joint Profiling Unit of the Panama Container Control Programme in Panama City.
Mr. Fedotov, accompanied by Gloria Moreno de López, Director of Customs of Panama, visited the Panama port on 30 June and witnessed the work of the Programme in the port's inspection area.
UNODC is working closely with the customs authorities of Panama to implement the Container Control Programme in that country. Under the Programme, joint operational units have been established in Port Balboa and Manzanillo, operating in collaboration with seven agencies: Customs, the national agency responsible for combating drug-related crime, the National Police Department, the Criminal Police Department, the Council for National Security and Defence, the Coast Guard and the Maritime Authority.
Staff from those units have been trained and provided with equipment and inspection kits to carry out systematic risk assessments in order to identify high-risk containers for inspection. The staff also share information with their counterparts in other ports. There are currenly 27 units in operation worldwide.
Panama joined the Container Control Programme in June 2009 in an effort to improve container security at the national level. The Programme helps port authorities in developing countries to establish modern techniques to ensure proper control and enforcement in the trade of legal goods.
The Programme continues to achieve spectacular results, including the interception of maritime shipments of illicit drugs, endangered species, hazardous materials and stolen cultural artefacts. Since March 2006, more than 40 tons of cocaine, 31 tons of cannabis and approximately 770 tons of precursor chemicals have been seized. UNODC is now working to achieve further successes under a programme targeting international airports in West Africa and South America.
The Container Control Programme operates in seaports in 11 countries in West Africa, Latin America and West and Central Asia (Afghanistan, Benin, Cape Verde, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Ghana, Guatemala, Panama, Pakistan, Senegal, Togo and Turkmenistan). The selected sites are located in major illicit drug producing regions and along established maritime trade routes used for the trans-shipment of illicit drugs and precursor chemicals. Expansion to Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Jamaica and Kazakhstan is planned for this year.
Acknowledging financial support from Canada, Germany and the United States of America and the provision by the United States and the Serious Organized Crime Agency (United Kingdom) of equipment for the Programme in Panama, Mr. Fedotov highlighted the need to strengthen control of land and air borders in the region, where UNODC has gained experience through a similar initiative for West Africa and Brazil, entitled "Aircop", which is aimed at establishing joint units in key airports on drug trafficking routes and at facilitating real-time communication.