Denis Foynes – Panama authorities have found “sophisticated missile equipment” aboard a North Korean ship that was passing through the Canal.
The weapons, exposed late Monday during an anti-drug inspection, appeared to have been hidden among a shipment of brown sugar, officials stated. The ship was coming from Cuba and turned off its radar which raised suspicions. The Panamanian authorities were oringally searching for drugs.
The 35 man strong crew resisted the search and turned violent when they tried to sabotage the ship by cutting cables on the cranes that would be used to unload cargo. The captain even tried to kill himself upon arrest.
Panama is appealing for help from “friendly governments” with the “technology to look into it” to discover exactly what the cargo is. Panamanian specialists have only searched one of the ship’s five cargo holds so far, Luis Eduardo Camacho, a spokesman for the president, stated on Tuesday.
Both Cuba and North Korea are yet to comment on the incident.
Earlier, President Martinelli explained to a local radio station, “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,” he said. “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.”
“This material not being declared and Panama being a neutral country, a country in peace, that doesn’t like war, we feel very worried about this war material and we don’t know what else will have passed through the Panama Canal.”
Due to United Nations sanctions, North Korea is banned from weapons exports and the import of all but small arms. Many experts believe the communist country is attempting to build a nuclear war head small enough to put in a long range missile.
The United States strongly praised Panama for their actions and strongly supported a full search of the ship.
On Wednesday, North Korea asked Panama to release the ship.
“This cargo is nothing but aging weapons which are to be sent back to Cuba after overhauling them according to a legitimate contract,” the North’s foreign ministry was quoted as saying by the state-run Central News Agency.