Panama stops North Korea ‘missile ship’
PANAMA CITY - Agence France-Presse
North Korean leader Kim (C) visits a war museum in Pyongyang in this photo. Panama has seized a North Korean-flagged ship traveling from Cuba. AFP PHOTO / KCNA via KNS REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUTPanama’s president said yesterday that a North Korean ship captain tried to kill himself after the vessel was stopped en route from Cuba and found to have suspected missile material on board.
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 listeners.
“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 Atlantic coast of the country. “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, the president 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 centre.
Cuba is a rare ally of Pyongyang. North Korea defiantly carried out its third nuclear weapons test in February and then threatened to attack the United States, in language that was shrill even by its standards.