What is suspicious about a North Korean ship carrying sugar to Cuba?
(USA Today) A North Korea cargo ship held in Panama with a load of undetermined weapons systems from Cuba has scrapped with pirates, been accused of shipping drugs and in its latest exploit apparently shut off its tracking system to vanish on the high seas, maritime experts say.
The Chong Chon Gang was anchored Wednesday on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal after having been halted on suspicion of shipping illicit drugs, according to Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli.
An initial search of the ship’s cargo hold revealed what appeared to be a Soviet-made radar system for surface-to-air missiles capable of striking enemy jets at high altitudes.
Panama requested help searching the rest of the ship from the United Nations, which has imposed a weapons-transport ban on North Korea over its refusal to end its nuclear tests.
North Korea has issued no comment on the meanderings of its vessel. Built in 1977, the Chong Chon Gang is registered to the state-owned, Pyongyang-based Chongchongang Shipping Company and “has a long history of detentions for safety deficiencies and other undeclared reasons,” Lloyd’s List said.
Cong Chon Gong has been detained on suspicion of trafficking drugs and ammunition, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute says. It was stopped in 2010 by Ukraine authorities in the Black Sea for reasons that are unclear. It was attacked by pirates in the Arabian Sea in 2009. Two of its sailors were injured in the unsuccessful hijacking attempt, according to the Lloyd’s List’s vessel report.
That year, the ship caught the attention of maritime officials when it made a stop at the Syrian port of Tartus, home to Russia’s only overseas naval base, says Hugh Griffiths, an arms trafficking expert at the institute. Why it was there is not known.
“The Panamanian investigation authorities rashly attacked and detained the captain and crewmen of the ship on the plea of “drug investigation” and searched its cargo but did not discover any drug. Yet, they are justifying their violent action, taking issue with other kind of cargo aboard the ship. This cargo is nothing but aging weapons which are to send back (sic) to Cuba after overhauling them according to a legitimate contract.”
Why does legal cargo need to be hidden under tons of sugar?