María M. Mur
The merchant marine of Panama, the largest in the world, is armored against terrorism and its first affected customers are about 60 ships of Iranian origin that will be removed from the Panamanian flag for being suspected of collaborating in terrorist acts.
The government issued on Tuesday a decree ordering the Panama Maritime Authority (AMP) to expel from the registry vessels designated by local intelligence services as being related to "terrorist groups and violent extremists that are considered to undermine stability, peace and international security".
The order currently affects 62 Iranian ships, mostly dedicated to the transportation of fuel, and has been very applauded by the United States, the great defender of Panama in the region.
The text also prohibits companies located in Panama, a country with global logistics relevance through the interoceanic channel, provide services or do business with ships that have been removed from the registry or that are in the process of expulsion.
Sources from the Panamanian Foreign Ministry explained to Acan-Efe that the decree is part of the efforts undertaken in recent years by Panama to fight against money laundering and financing of terrorism.
The president of the Panamanian Association of Maritime Law (APADEMAR), Francisco Linares, told to Acan-Efe on Thursday that it is an "unprecedented" decree, which "strengthens" the image of the Panamanian merchant marine in the outside.
"Panama is sending the message that it is a responsible country and complying with international rules, our flag provides a global service and, as such, we must ensure global security", said the lawyer.
The merchant marine of Panama, the largest in the world, accounted for 18% of the world fleet in 2016 and registered a total of 8,094 vessels and 226.6 million tons. Panama is followed by Liberia and the Marshall Islands, according to the AMP.
The registry, which began in 1925 and has been leading the market since the 1990s, reports direct or indirect revenues of between 125 and 150 million dollars a year to public coffers.
It is an open registry, which means that it does not require the owners of the ships to have Panamanian nationality or residence, nor does it impose any age restrictions on the vessel or tonnage.
The Iranian ships to which the Panamanian flag is going to be withdrawn, Linares warned, will have to search "immediately" for another record that will allow them to sail and dock in ports: "Sailing without a flag in international waters is a very serious crime. It's like being a pirate".
The decree was published in the Official Gazette just when the Panamanian vice-president and chancellor, Isabel de Saint Malo, was meeting in Washington with the Secretary of State of the United States, Mike Pompeo.
"Secretary Pompeo applauds the presidential decree issued by President (Juan Carlos) Varela, it is an important step in helping to prevent terrorist groups and states that sponsor terrorism that threatens global trade and stability", he said after the meeting the Deputy Speaker of the Department of State, Robert Palladino.
The local press maintains that it was the North American country that specifically requested Panama to expel the Iranian ships from registration and that, if it did not, US could include Panama in a black list of the US Treasury.
The order, according to the media, seeks to comply with the measures applied on November 5 by the Office of Control of Foreign Assets (OFAC) against 700 people, entities, aircraft and ships of Iran, as part of the new aggressive escalation of United States against the Persian nation.