Press Releases

    For information only - not an official document

    22 June 2010

    Container Security Disrupts Illicit Flows in Central America

    UNODC strengthens maritime security through Container Control Programme and
    Centre of Excellence

    VIENNA, 22 June (UN Information Service) - The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Government of Panama today launched a regional programme to strengthen maritime security in Central America. The goal of the joint programme is to prevent illicit and counterfeit goods from entering markets through the world's ports.

    Globalization creates many opportunities for trade and spreads the production and consumption of goods to virtually all corners of the world. Up to 90 per cent of the world's cargo is transported by sea every year, and 420 million containers are used to move goods from one country to another. However, less than two per cent of these are inspected, creating major opportunities for drug traffickers and smugglers to conceal illicit cargo.

    "Most of the world's trade is shipped by containers, which means that containers are also the main delivery system for illicit goods," said UNODC's Deputy Executive Director Francis Maertens during his 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.

    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 the UNODC/World Customs Organization Global Container Control Programme in October 2009, 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 US$20 million," said Mr. Maertens.

    Intercepting suspicious container cargoes is difficult due to the sheer volume of containers travelling the globe. 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. To tackle these problems, UNODC and the World Customs Organization help countries identify suspicious cargo with tailored technology and robust risk-assessments, and facilitate seizures through the use of intelligence and timely information-sharing. The Global Container Control Programme has yielded impressive results in different parts of the world (Cape Verde, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Ghana, Pakistan, Panama, Senegal, Turkmenistan) since its start in 2006: 38 tons of cocaine, 770 tons of precursor chemicals, and 1,550 tons of illegally-logged wood.

    To further strengthen measures against organized crime in the region, UNODC is also launching the Centre of Excellence on Maritime Security in Panama City and opening a Regional Programme Office for Central America, Cuba and the Dominican Republic with the financial support of the Government of Panama.

    The Centre of Excellence will help diagnose threats to maritime security and serve as a resource of expertise, training, data collection and analysis. It will provide strategic direction and training in search techniques, security, maritime interdiction, anti-human trafficking and the handling hazardous and toxic cargoes. UNODC's new operational hub in Panama City will also allow the organization to provide more effective advisory services to countries in the region.

    Drugs flowing 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," says Panama's Foreign Affairs Minister Juan Carlos Varela. "This reinforced focus on maritime security will help the governments in the region to tackle the common threat of organized crime."

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    For further information contact:

    Walter Kemp
    Spokesman and Speechwriter, UNODC
    Mobile: (+43-699) 1459-5629