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Panama Elected to Head U.N. Shipping Agency, Despite Concern Over Sanctions Evasion


The United Nations (U.N.) shipping agency, the International Maritime Organization's Council (IMO), elected Panama official Arsenio Antonio Dominguez Velasco as its secretary-general Tuesday.

According to reports, Panama beat contenders from China, Turkey, Kenya, Finland, Dominica, and Bangladesh in a vote. Dominguez will take control on January 1, 2024, in the next four years, subject to the approval of the U.N. shipping agency's assembly.

Dominguez will be in charge at a critical time as shipping companies continue to face violence on the seas from rogue regimes and terrorists and as calls for decarbonization continue to increase. The Panama official served as director of the IMO's marine environment division for just over six years and was previously Panama's IMO representative.

Following the announcement, experts and analysts questioned whether Panama should lead the IMO, given its history of allowing regimes like the Islamic Republic of Iran to use its flagged ships to evade American sanctions.

The Panama government has said it would clean up its fleet to prevent substandard Panama-flagged ships from being detained in foreign ports following its addition to an international watch list.

"Panama's association with enabling sanctions evasions through the use of its flagged tankers for transporting sanctioned Iranian oil warrants a careful re-evaluation of our maritime choices,” Claire Jungman, chief of staff at advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran said.

"The rise in sanctions evasions and the crucial demand for more rigorous safety checks cast doubt on the suitability of Panama's victory. However, it's essential to acknowledge that none of the other options in the final round of voting offered a seamless solution either," Jungman told The Foreign Desk.

In April, the U.S. State Department announced that Panama removed 30 Iranian vessels designated by Washington from its shipping registry and were re-flagged as Iranian vessels.

Despite the actions by the U.S. and other countries to crack down on international smuggling, many regimes have managed to bypass international sanctions without facing consequences from the West.

Related Story: Islamic Republic Sending Warships to Brazil and Panama Canal in Challenge to U.S.

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