Panamanian Air and Naval Service Members Take Maritime Canine Counternarcotics Course
By Julieta Pelcastre/Diálogo August 21, 2017Personnel from the Panamanian Air and Naval Service (SENAN, per its Spanish acronym) successfully completed the first International Counternarcotics Canine Guide with Maritime Specialization Course . The training was organized by the Colombian Navy’s International Coast Guard School in Cartagena de Indias, within its maritime interdiction programs. The intense 500-hour training included the study of dogs, their feeding, care, first aid, basic training, methods of site exploration, and substance detection and identification techniques. Two agents and three corporals from SENAN’s K-9 Unit, and two Colombian Coast Guard personnel were graduated. “This first course [from April 14th to June 23rd] is the result of knowledge gained over 25 years in the war on drugs,” Commander Armando José Ramírez Guerrero, the director of the Colombian Navy’s International Coast Guard School, told Diálogo. “K-9 personnel need to be trained on the leading methods and techniques for searching vessels, due to the fact that outlaw groups hide and transport large amounts of illegal drugs in maritime vessels,” Captain Braulio Salas, the chief of SENAN’s K-9 Unit, told Diálogo. The instruction was focused on the training of canine teams for conducting counternarcotics operations aboard vessels. It began by selecting a dog with the characteristics needed for good performance. They conducted research to acquire and deepen their understanding as it relates to the classifications, functions, and characteristics of the different dog breeds, according to the World Canine Organization and the American Kennel Club. The students reinforced their knowledge about identifying substances, the origins, classifications, and effect of drugs, the Standardized Preliminary Identification Test, and the methods of transporting illicit substances. In hands-on activities during the course, the participants learned techniques for conducting site exploration and locating hidden compartments in any type of vessel, and in areas outside of them. “The personnel selected for this task must possess the requisite mechanical aptitudes, enthusiasm, honesty, and experience that will allow them to successfully fulfill each mission, taking into account the security measures for getting information about how the enemy operates. These data allow for higher-impact operational planning,” Capt. Salas said. “It needs to be a person in excellent physical condition who can manage the dog, as they have to get the dog over to the boat, lift it on board, and lift it off. This involves teamwork. The officer must always remain with the dog and must be able to interpret what the dog is trying to say,” Cmdr. Ramírez added. From the first moment the officer has contact with the dog, it is essential to create a healthy bond with the animal, to forge a relationship of trust and mutual respect. The guide has to be the dog’s support in all types of situations, making sure that it enjoys what it is doing, meaning that the guide-and-dog team must get along. Swift and timely response “The training will aid in combating domestic and international organized crime groups with the help of properly trained K-9 teams. The Panamanian Air and Naval Service will be able to confront them through systematic searches to locate explosives, drugs, and currency in vessels at ports, harbors, and airports under our jurisdiction,” Capt. Salas emphasized. SENAN announced that from January to July 2017, a total of 36 seizures were made (in the Pacific and Caribbean), in which more than 12,000 packets of drugs were seized, 9,200 of which were cocaine. Most of the seizures were done along the Pacific coast. In addition, security forces arrested 57 people of different nationalities linked to drug trafficking. In maritime interdiction programs, the canine teams, made up of a guide and a dog, have proven valuable in the fight against drug trafficking. According to a SENAN press release, the Panamanian Air and Naval Service, in coordination with the Special Prosecutor for Narcotics in Colón, Panama, seized 225 packets of cocaine hidden in the vicinity of Costa Arriba, Colón, on March 29th. The drug seizure was achieved thanks to counternarcotics specialists, among them “Sony,” a dog in the Air and Naval Service’s K-9 Unit. More counternarcotics K-9 guides The course met its objective. “Thanks to the professional personnel, who are trained and eager to do their job, and also thanks to SENAN, we had the best response to this need by the students,” Cmdr. Ramírez concluded. For its part, SENAN indicated that after the training, the Panamanian participants will put all of their acquired knowledge into practice for the benefit of SENAN’s K-9 Unit. “The Colombian Navy’s International Coast Guard School will continue to offer this course with the objective of teaching the largest number of canine guides for the Colombian Navy and Coast Guard, as well as for the armed forces or coast guard services of partner nations,” Cmdr. Ramírez concluded.