Via Fox News:
Panama’s president says the country has taken control of a North Korean ship that was trying to illegally sneak ballistic missiles and other arms materials from Cuba through the Panama Canal.
Ricardo Martinelli said on Radio Panama on Monday that the ship was stopped on the Atlantic coast of the country, according to the AFP.
“We had suspected this ship, which was coming from Cuba and headed to North Korea, might have drugs aboard so it was brought into port for search and inspection,” Martinelli said. “When we started to unload the shipment of sugar we located containers that we believe to be sophisticated missile equipment, and that is not allowed.”
Martinelli told RPC the 35 North Koreans on the boat resisted police efforts to take the ship to the Caribbean port of Manzanillo. The crew was later taken into custody, and Martinelli said the captain had a heart attack and also tried to commit suicide during the operation.
“The world needs to sit up and take note: you cannot go around shipping undeclared weapons of war through the Panama Canal,” Martinelli said, according to the AFP. Panama is holding the ship for further investigation.
Panamanian authorities have only searched one of the ship’s five cargo holds so far, Luis Eduardo Camacho, a spokesman for the president, said on Tuesday.
“This material not being declared and Panama being a neutral country, a country in peace, that doesn’t like war, we feel very worried about this war material and we don’t know what else will have … passed through the Panama Canal,” Martinelli said.
He added that the undeclared military cargo appeared to include missiles and non-conventional arms and the ship was violating United Nations resolutions against arms trafficking.
The governments of North Korea and Cuba had not commented on the ship seizure as of Tuesday morning.
Hugh Griffiths, an arms trafficking expert at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, said the seized ship is called Chong Chon Gang and has been on the institute’s suspect list for some time.
He said the ship had been caught before for trafficking narcotics and small arms ammunition. It was stopped in 2010 in the Ukraine and was attacked by pirates 400 miles off the coast of Somalia in 2009.
Griffiths’ institute has also been interested in the ship because of a stop it made in 2009 in Tartus — a Syrian port city hosting a Russian naval base.
Griffiths also said the institute earlier this year reported to the U.N. a discovery it made of a flight from Cuba to North Korea that travelled via central Africa.
“Given the history of North Korea, Cuban military cooperation and now this latest seizure, we find this flight more interesting,” he said. “After this incident there should be renewed focus on North Korean-Cuban links.”