A NORTH KOREAN ship carrying a cache of arms hidden under a cargo of sugar has been detained in the Panama port of Manzanillo on the Caribbean. The ship has a history of arms and drug running.
The Chong Chong Gang, flying a North Korean flag was traveling from Cuba and heading for the Panama Canal when it was stopped and boarded by Panamanian authorities on suspicion of carrying drugs.
Public Drug prosecutor, Javier Caraballo told local media on Tuesday July 16 that he had obtained information about the presence of drugs on the vessel which he claimed had a history of carrying illicit substances and after it was stpped and seached he ordered the ship to Manzanillo.
Caraballo described the crew "as reluctant and aggressive" but after several days of searching , they found containers of apparent military equipment hidden under a large amount of sugar in one of the holds and the ship was towed to Manzanillo.
In an earlier radio statement by Panama’s president, Ricardo Martinelli described the find as "suspected sophisticated missile equipment",
Martinelli also said that the ship’s captain attempted suicide.
"The Panama Canal is one of peace and not of war," he said. "Let the world know that you cannot send undeclared war material through the Panama Canal.
Security Minister, Jose Raul Mulino has moved to Colon to supervise investigations.
The North Korean authorities have not spoken about the detention of the freighter , while the Seoul government said today that they need to "check the facts".
Due to various UN sanctions, North Korea is banned from exporting and importing any kind of weapons, and detection measures were intensified after the last regime's nuclear test on February 12.
The U.S. military confirmed in June 2011 that it had intercepted a North Korean freighter in international waters suspected of carrying arms to Burma.
Chong Chon Gang, was on the list of suspects published by the Stockholm Peace Research Institute, reported the British website Orange.
According to the web site, Hugh Griffiths, an expert in arms trafficking, said that the ship has been previously involved in narcotics and small arms trafficking.
She was implicated in smuggling in Ukraine in 2010 and a year earlier, in 2009, the boat came under a pirate attack 400 miles off the coast of Somalia.
They also suggested that the arms could have been sent to North Korea from Cuba for updating and then returned to Cuba. Payment for that service could be the sugar found on board.
Defence consultancy IHS Jane’s has identified the equipment shown in the images so far released as an RSN-75 ‘Fan Song’ fire control radar for the SA-2 family of surface-to-air missiles. North Korea’s air defence network is arguably one of the densest in the world, but it is also based on obsolete weapons, missiles and radars. In particular, its high altitude SA-2 surface-to-air missiles are ineffective in a modern warfare environment.
“It’s interesting to ask what the Cubans would stand to gain by helping the North Koreans,” said Diego Moya-Ocampos, Americas risk analyst for IHS Jane’s. “Their foreign policy is usually very pragmatic, in the sense that they will only get involved if they will receive something in return.
“As the only single-party state in the Western Hemisphere, they have good relations with North Korea, and a delegation visited Havana earlier this year.