Panama to punish vessels switching off AIS

A freighter at night transiting the Panama Canal. Credit: Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Panama Maritime Authority has pledged to penalise vessels in its fleet that ‘go dark’ by turning off the long-range identification and tracking (LRIT) or Automatic Identification System (AIS).

The flag administration said that in cases where tampering with these systems can be proven, it will levy a fine of up to USD10,000, as well as potentially de-flagging vessels from the registry “in some cases where the vessel is found having this conduct on a regular basis”.

The sanctions will also apply to vessels operating in Panamanian waters.

The practice is common in the case of vessels sanction-busting, and many of the ‘dark’ vessel transits that have been uncovered are associated with Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Venezuela.

Panama struck the very large crude carrier Grace 1 from its register mid-voyage at the end of May 2019, after it was caught exporting Iranian oil loaded at Kharg Island to Syria. The vessel was subsequently re-named Adrian Darya 1 and is currently under detention close to Tripoli for almost a year. It still flies the Iranian flag.

“This General Directorate of Merchant Marine is monitoring all our fleet 24/7, so if the LRIT or the AIS is down or not reporting, an automatic alert will be send to the Navigation and Maritime Safety Department [fleet control and monitoring section], where the personnel responsible will initiate an internal investigation of such alert, and if there is no technical support that justifies the missing report, it may culminate with sanctions that will be deemed appropriate,” the Panama Maritime Authority noted in a statement.