With Palau’s borders closed to commercial flights since March of this year, incidents of drug smuggling into the country have been reduced, but not altogether eliminated, says the Narcotics Enforcement Agency’s (NEA’s) Director Ismael Aguon.

Mail and cargo containers continue to arrive weekly in Palau, and the NEA says that drugs continue to come into the country through these means.

The vast majority of hard drugs like methamphetamine are imported into Palau from places like the US, due to the lower cost of production there.

The Palau Post Office and Customs collaborate to screen inbound packages for drugs. However, due to the “colorful and innovative” methods smugglers have been using to bring drugs into the country, this remains a challenge.

“We are determined not to underestimate [drug traffickers] and how far they will go to supply drugs to our community,” said Director Aguon.

According to ROP Postal Inspector Sherry Sisior, Post Customs has seized five packages containing suspected methamphetamine drugs in 2020, all of them sent from the US. Altogether, the seizures contained 183 grams of meth with an estimated street value of $183 thousand. Four of the five packages were seized after Palau closed its borders on March 20.

All of the drugs seized from Post Customs were immediately transferred to the NEA for safekeeping and investigation.

But the NEA suspects that drugs are being imported through less-detectable methods as well, possibly by cargo arrivals which are not necessarily searched thoroughly, such as car shipments.

Director Aguon cited the recent drug washup in the Marshall Islands as an example of how drugs continue to find their way to Pacific islands, despite border closures.

“There was a recent washup on shore of multi-kilo quantities of cocaine in the Marshall Islands,” said Director Aguon. “This goes to show the determination of drug traffickers.”  

The cocaine haul, which washed up in an abandoned boat two weeks ago on Ailuk Atoll, included 649 kilograms of cocaine, worth an estimated street value of $80 million.

Director Aguon stresses that the NEA is striving to remain proactive in its detection of the increasingly “sophisticated and complex” methods of drug smuggling.

The ongoing K9 working-dog program, which has been teaching NEA officers to handle eight working dogs trained in drug and bomb detection, is aimed at boosting Palau’s capacity to patrol its ports of entry for drug smuggling. The training course for the NEA officers is set to finish in about a month.

Director Aguon emphasized that anyone with information they can share with law enforcement to help in the fight against drug trafficking would be most appreciated.   

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