PANAMA CITY (EFE ) – Twenty-four warships from 10 countries sailed into international Pacific and Caribbean waters last week for “PANAMAX 2005” – a series of training maneuvers on how to respond to a terrorist attack on the waterway.“The purpose of PANAMAX 2005 maneuvers is the defense of the Panama Canal from a hypothetical terrorist attack,” said Nidia Diaz, a spokeswoman for Panama’s National Maritime Service (SMN), which hosted the exercises.The military exercises claimed the lives of three Panamanian National Guardsmen who drowned while performing maneuvers off the coast of Panama’s Huasha Island.This was the second year the event was staged. As before, Argentina, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, the United States, Peru, Honduras, Mexico and the Dominican Republic were involved. Costa Rica, El Salvador, France and Uruguay attended as observers.Diaz said the participating destroyers, coast guard cutters and helicopter carriers left the Panamanian ports of Rodman, on the Pacific, and Cristóbal and Sherman, on the Caribbean, at dawn.The Panamanian National Maritime Service’s land forces also conducted land exercises along the 80 kilometers of the canal with the goal of identifying – and so preparing to protect – the points most vulnerable to attack.Only combined Panamanian security forces are taking part in the land exercises, Diaz said. The Panama Canal, which last year was reportedly targeted by al-Qaeda, handles 5% of world trade. An average of 43 ships use the canal daily, paying some $700 million in tolls a year, according to official figures.Headed up by U.S. Rear Admiral Vinson Smith, PANAMAX 2005 also sought to standardize international procedures in matters of maritime interdiction, security, communication, rules of engagement, command and control.
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