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North Korean Ship Carrying Hidden Missiles Seized by Panama

By    |   Tuesday, 16 July 2013 11:51 AM

A North Korean ship reportedly hiding ballistic missiles and other arms in brown sugar containers was seized as it headed toward the Panama Canal Monday.

The ship had set sail from Cuba and was on its way to the Pacific.

The seizure by Panama sparked a standoff in which the ship's captain attempted to commit suicide, Reuters reported.

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President Ricardo Martinelli said the undeclared weapons were detected inside the containers when Panamanian authorities stopped the ship, suspecting it was carrying drugs.

"We're going to keep unloading the ship and figure out exactly what was inside," he told Panamanian television late on Monday. "You cannot go around shipping undeclared weapons of war through the Panama Canal."

It was unclear what the weapons were but a photo posted on Martinelli's official Twitter page showed a long missile-shaped object with a tapering, conical end inside the ship.

IHS Jane's said it had identified the equipment shown in the images as an RSN-75 'Fan Song' fire control radar for the SA-2 family of surface-to-air missiles.

Martinelli said the captain of the vessel tried to commit suicide after the ship was stopped near the port of Manzanillo on the Atlantic side of the canal.

The president said the crew resisted efforts by Panamanian authorities to redirect the ship, named Chong Chon Gang, to Manzanillo and 35 crew members were detained.

A spokeswoman for the canal said she did not have any more information. The attorney general's office did not immediately return requests for comment.

Javier Caraballo, Panama's top anti-drugs prosecutor, told local television the ship was en route to North Korea.

North Korea, a reclusive and impoverished Asian nation, is under tough sanctions enacted by the United Nations, the United States and the European Union, including a U.N. ban on all arms exports due to its controversial nuclear weapons program.

Previous violations of sanctions included North Korean shipments of arms-related material to Syria in November 2010 and rocket fuses for Iran in 2008, according to a U.N. report in May.

Sanctions were toughened after the country's February nuclear test and its vow to continue developing nuclear weapons, saying it fears an attack by the United States.

Shipping data obtained by IHS Maritime research group showed that the Chong Chon Gang arrived at the southern end of the Panama Canal on May 31.

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After passing through the canal on June 1, with a stated destination of Havana, Cuba, the ship disappeared from the tracking system before reappearing last Thursday in Manzanillo, Panama.

There were indications that cargo had been changed at some point in the interim, according to HIS.

Related stories:

Hagel Says North Korea’s Missiles Can’t Now Reach the U.S.

North Korea 'Direct Threat,' U.S. Commander to Tell Congress

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A North Korean ship was seized by Panama as it headed toward the Panama Canal Monday. The ship, which had set sail from Cuba and was on its way to the Pacific, was reportedly hiding ballistic missiles and other arms in brown sugar containers.
Tuesday, 16 July 2013 11:51 AM
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