Panama stops vessel bound for N. Korea for carrying weapons

Ship suspected of transporting "sophisticated missile equipment"
July 16th, 2013

SEOUL – A North Korean ship carrying “undeclared military cargo” was seized by the authorities in Panama on Tuesday, President Ricardo Martinelli said via his Twitter account on Tuesday.

The Panama president uploaded a photo of a dark green tubular device with a cone shaped tip to Twitter –– an unidentified “weapon” that is believed to be “sophisticated missile equipment” by local authorities.

“Panama-flagged ship captured North Korean cargo from Cuba with undeclared military cargo,” Martinelli said in a Tweet.  In a further Twitter post he said the, “material was hidden in containers in a cargo of sugar.”

The president described the dramatic scenes on the ship while speaking on Radio Panama:

The world needs to sit up and take note: you cannot go around shipping undeclared weapons of war through the Panama Canal.

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.

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.

The captain has tried to commit suicide, and the crew also rioted.

So we are holding this vessel for further investigation.


A source familiar with the issue told NK News via email,

“Previous reports by the Panel of Experts have shown that the DPRK uses intricate indirect routes for its illegal shipments.  So although this shipment was coming from Cuba this does not mean that it originated there.  Perhaps it was originally from the DPRK and was being shipped via Cuba in an effort to avoid detection.

In recent years, as the travel program of the UN Panel of Experts shows, the Panel has made efforts to help implementation of the UN sanctions by central American states.  I believe that this is the first time that such a state has seized North Korean illicit goods – an important step forward in global implementation of the sanctions.”

Panama has not revealed any further details about the molested cargo, but a missile shipment would violate UN sanctions that prohibit North Korea from selling or purchasing advanced weapons systems.

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About the Author

Chad O'Carroll

Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.