A North Korean ship carrying weapons-system parts buried under sacks of sugar was seized as it tried to cross the Panama Canal on its way from Cuba to its home country, which is barred by United Nations sanctions from importing sophisticated weapons or missiles, Panamanian officials said Tuesday.
A private defense-analysis firm that examined a photograph of the find said the ship appeared to be transporting a radar-control system for a Soviet-era surface-to-air missile system, and Cuba later released a statement calling the equipment on the boat “obsolete defensive weapons” from the mid-20th century.
A statement from Cuba’s Foreign Ministry acknowledged that the military equipment belonged to the Caribbean nation but said it had been shipped out to be repaired and returned to the island.
It said the 240 metric tons of weaponry consisted of two Volga and Pechora anti- aircraft missile systems, nine missiles “in parts and spares,” two Mig-21 Bis and 15 engines for those airplanes.
“The agreements subscribed by Cuba in this field are supported by the need to maintain our defensive capacity in order to preserve national sovereignty,” the statement read.
It concluded by saying that Havana remains “unwavering” in its commitment to international law, peace and nuclear disarmament.
Earlier, Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli said the ship identified as the 14,000-ton Chong Chon Gang was carrying missiles and other arms “hidden in containers underneath the cargo of sugar.”