Guarding the Big Ditch

By Robert Elliott


The Panama Canal, a crucial thoroughfare that accommodates more than 3 percent of world trade, has in recent years beefed up its security considerably. More security implementation is on the horizon as canal authorities and the Panamanian public consider an expansion that would permit passage of larger “Post-Panamax” ships.

Among the threats is a “Trojan horse ship” that could explode and inflict large-scale damage to vital installations. That threat takes its place alongside many other dangers: natural disasters such as earthquakes, mudslides, and floods; maritime accidents; dam bursts; worker strikes; and anything else that can interrupt the flow of traffic.

The Panama Canal Authority (ACP, short for its name in Spanish) works to counter all of these dangers. The ACP has a central control room at its headquarters near the Miraflores locks. From there, officials use television screens to monitor the traffic flowing through the channel. The screens get feeds from the more than 400 cameras that run up and down the 52-mile waterway. Other security includes access controls, patrol boats, and 9,000 vigilant employees ready to report anomalies.

One of the newest measures taken by the ACP has been to embrace the International Maritime Organization’s International Ship and Port Security (ISPS) code, which yields more information about ships and their cargo, and provides international legal backing to deal firmly with suspect vessels. Vessels hoping to transit the channel must check in with the ACP 96 hours before arrival in canal waters and transmit requested data including the previous port, the cargo, the crewmembers, passengers, and destination.

The ASIS Transportation Security Council is sponsoring a comprehensive, three-day program on all facets of passenger transportation security December 11-13, 2006, in Chicago. Highlights of the program, entitled Land, Sea, and Air: Trends in Passenger Transportation Security. How prepared are we for more attacks?, include sessions on international concerns, terrorism, emerging trends and initiatives, Department of Homeland Security changes and guidelines, and staying competitive. For more information or to register, visit or call Member Services at 703/519-6200.

Robert Elliott is an assistant editor at Security Management.



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