Panama seized a North Korean ship today that the government said departed from Cuba and contained “undeclared weapons of war.” Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli tweeted pictures of what looked like part of a missile system. He said the ship was stopped in the Panama Canal because it was suspected of carrying drugs.
Authorities found the weapons underneath a shipment of sugar, Martinelli said.
As The Guardian reports, this appears to be a violation of United Nations weapons-trade sanctions against North Korea.
“Neither the Cuban government nor its communist ally in North Korea commented on the seizure,” the Guardian reports.
“The 35-member crew have been detained, including the captain.
“The Chong Chon Gang was stopped near Manzanillo on the Atlantic side of the canal.
“Security Minister Jose Raul Mulino said the ship ‘aroused suspicion by the violent reaction of the captain and the crew.’ “
You may be asking yourself, why would a ship be leaving Cuba with weapons of this kind? The New York Times quotes defense consulting firm IHS Jane’s Intelligence as saying the images show an “RSN-75 ‘Fan Song’ fire control radar for the SA-2 family of surface-to-air missiles.” That’s a Soviet system.
The Times goes on:
” ‘One possibility is that Cuba could be sending the system to North Korea for an upgrade,’ it said. ‘In this case, it would likely be returned to Cuba and the cargo of sugar could be a payment for the services.’
“But IHS Jane’s added that the fire control radar equipment could also have been en route to North Korea to augment North Korea’s air defense network, which it said was based on obsolete weapons, missiles and radars.”
Reuters reports that the U.S. praised the seizure.
“The United States strongly supports Panama’s decision to inspect the DPRK flagged vessel,” State Department deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell said. “The United States commends the action that the government of Panama took in this case.”
Meanwhile, the Panamanian government said it will continue to search the ship.