published Friday, August 2nd, 2013

Panama finds munitions aboard North Korea-bound ship

A police officer walks past containers carrying a Russian-made fighter engine which were taken off the North Korean-flagged freighter ship Chong Chon Gang in this  July 30, 2013, file photo.
A police officer walks past containers carrying a Russian-made fighter engine which were taken off the North Korean-flagged freighter ship Chong Chon Gang in this July 30, 2013, file photo.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

PANAMA CITY — Crews unloading a North Korean-flagged ship detained in the Panama Canal for carrying undeclared arms from Cuba have found live munitions aboard, a Panamanian official said Friday.

Explosive-sniffing dogs found ammunition for grenade launchers and other unidentified types, said prosecutor Javier Caraballo, who did not specify the amount of munitions.

The ship, Chong Chon Gang, was headed from Cuba to North Korea when it was seized in the canal July 15 based on intelligence that it may have been carrying drugs.

The manifest said it was carrying sugar, but Cuban military equipment was found beneath the sacks.

Cubans officials later said the cargo included 240 metric tons of obsolete planes and missiles that they were sending to North Korea to be repaired and returned. There was no mention of munitions or explosives in the government statement, and Cuban officials could not be reached immediately for comment Friday afternoon.

“We don’t have a sheet or a list to determine if what we’re finding corresponds to that specified by the Cuban government,” Caraballo told reporters.

As of Friday, crews had only unloaded two of five cargo holds in the ship. Besides the munitions, they had found radar and control systems for launching missiles, two Mig-21 aircraft and 12 motors.

The weapons discovery triggered an investigation by the U.N. Security Council committee that monitors the sanctions against North Korea. The council is sending a team to see if the discovery violates U.N. sanctions. Panama earlier this week asked to postpone the visit to Aug. 12 because it is taking so long to unload the ship.

Panama has filed charges against the crew for transporting undeclared military equipment.

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