North Korea has paid a fine of US$693, 333 after a vessel was seized attempting to smuggle a cache of Cuban Military hardware across the Panama Canal.
The fine comes after the North Korean ship named ‘Chong Chon Gang’ was found to be carrying undeclared weapons across the Panama Canal. The original fine of $1 million was reduced as North Korean authorities admitted that they had not only endangered the waterway, but had supplied false shipping information.
Canal Administrator, Jorge Quijano said: “They paid the fine in cash, so the ship is free to sail.” The vessel will return to Cuba.
The 36 year old 509 ft. vessel was captured by the Panamanian Authorities on 10th July 2013. Upon investigation, 25 containers were found containing Cuban Military hardware. This included two MiG-21 aircraft, Air Defence systems and a number of missiles and Command & Control Vehicles.
The stockpile was located behind 200,000 bags of sugar.
According to IHS Maritime and USA Today, the ship was granted travel across the Panama Canal on the 1st June with an initial destination of Havana. Soon after entering the canal it vanished from the international Automatic Identification System (AIS). It re-appeared on the 11th July with North Korea as the listed destination.
These irregularities provided the Panamanian Authorities with the means to investigate the ships cargo.
President Ricardo Martinelli announced the seizure of the ship in a radio broadcast, stating that the ships hidden cargo was in violation of a number of UN sanctions.
After the Nuclear Weapons tests of 2006, North Korea was placed under the UN security council resolution 1718 that prevents the import from or export of “any battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles or missile systems.”
Authorities in both Havana and Pyongyang have made statements that the weapons were being transported to North Korea for refurbishment under a legitimate contract; however both have failed to explain why the weapons were hidden.
Last month Panamanian authorities released 32 members of the 35 member crew without charge, who have been detained since July. The Captain, First Officer and Political Officer are to remain in custody and face trial on arms trafficking charges.