Tuesday, July 16, 2013

North Korean freighter seized in Panama (Updated)

Well, this is interesting. 

A North Korean freighter that departed the Russian far east in April and visited Cuba was seized and searched in Panama, and military equipment was found.  (See update below.)

The search was prompted by an intelligence tip (source unspecified) that there were drugs on board, according to Panama’s President Ricardo Martinelli.

Martinelli called the cargo “sophisticated missile equipment” and says friendly nations who know about this kind of equipment are going to evaluate it.  If you look around, you can find stories saying there were ballistic missiles or ballistic missile parts on board.

Martinelli himself tweeted this photo.

Sky News, and later the New York Times, contacted Jane’s in London, which identified the equipment as the fire control radar for the SA-2 surface-to-air missile system, an antiaircraft system developed by the Soviets in the 1950’s.  (Report here.)

If the equipment originated in Cuba, we don’t know if Cuba was selling it to North Korea, or was sending it to North Korea to be upgraded and returned.  The Jane’s analyst spoke to the Telegraph about these possibilities and noted, “it’s not clear how they [Cuba] expected to come out well of this.”

No kidding.  Maybe we’ll learn more when “friendly nations” have inspected the cargo.

The ship’s route, according to the BBC:

17 April: Departs port of Vostochnyy, Nakhodka in Russian Far East (200km east of North Korean border)
31 May: Arrives at Pacific side of Panama Canal
1 June: Passes through Panama Canal
11 July: Arrives back at Panamanian port of Manzanillo
12 July: Ship searched
16 July: Panama announces its discovery


Cuba’s foreign ministry issued a statement describing the cargo: “240 metric tons of obsolete defensive weapons – two Volga and Pechora anti-aircraft missile complexes, nine missiles in parts and spares, two Mig-21B’s and 15 motors for this type of airplane, all of it manufactured in the mid-twentieth century – to be repaired and returned to Cuba.”  There was also 10,000 tons of sugar.

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