Panama stops North Korea ship over ‘missile equipment’

By Dialogo
July 16, 2013

PANAMA CITY, Panama – Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli said on July 16 counter-narcotics agents found suspected missile material on board a North Korea-flagged vessel they stopped en route from Cuba.
Outlining a dramatic sequence of events, President Ricardo Martinelli said the ship was targeted by drug enforcement officials as it approached the Panama Canal and was taken into port, but a search revealed cargo of far greater concern.
The vessel’s estimated 35-man crew also rioted when police stepped aboard, according to Martinelli, who said the suspicious goods were found hidden in a consignment of sugar.
“The world needs to sit up and take note: You cannot go around shipping undeclared weapons of war through the Panama Canal,” he told Radio Panama.
“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 [on the country’s Atlantic coast],” Martinelli added.
Initial reports said the ship was boarded on July 12.
“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 said.
The ship, named Chong Chon Gang, is being held as are the crew, who not only resisted the approach from the Panamanian authorities but attempted to sabotage the search, he said.
“The captain has tried to commit suicide, and the crew rioted” during the operation, Martinelli said.
The boat was headed back to North Korea when it was stopped and taken to Manzanillo, east of the Atlantic opening of the Panama Canal, which is a major cargo distribution center.
[AFP (Panama), 16/07/2013; Crítica (Panama), 15/07/2013]