The North Korean vessel Chong Chon Gang, which Panama stopped at the Canal, was loaded with armaments in good condition intended for North Korea’s use in its conventional military defenses, not, as Cuba claimed, to be repaired and returned to Cuba:
A report by SIPRI and 38 North reveals new details of the North Korean ship seized in Panama that contained weapons hidden beneath the 200,000 bags of sugar. In total, 25 shipping containers and six military vehicles were recovered by inspectors, far more than what the Cuban government previously claimed.
The report, Full Disclosure: Contents of North Korean Smuggling Ship Revealed, states that the cargo included
anti-aircraft missile components, two jet fighters and related engines, in fact a total of 25 shipping containers have now been recovered, together with six military vehicles.
the ship was also transporting a variety of small arms and light weapons (SALW) ammunition and conventional artillery ammunition for anti-tank guns and howitzer artillery as well as generators, batteries and night vision equipment, among other items.
The various rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and conventional artillery ammunition, many in mint condition, were unused and much of it was in original packing cases. They clearly were not “to be repaired and returned to Cuba.” Rather, these items were intended simply for delivery to North Korea for its own use.
The article’s authors, Hugh Griffiths and Roope Siirtola, ask,
One question that may confront the United Nations Panel of Experts currently investigating the case is whether this concealment device was created specifically for this voyage or is simply evidence of a long-standing practice employed by North Korean-owned vessels transporting illicit materials in a clandestine fashion.
On top of the sanctions question, Panama and the rest of the hemisphere would be correct to ask how many other arms shipments Cuba has covertly sent through the Panama Canal and where they have gone. It seems unlikely that this shipment was the only one Cuba has done.
Meanwhile, over in Cuba, General Pedro Mendiondo Gomez, who was in charge of the armaments found on the Chong Chon Gang, and who was scheduled to be questioned by the UN investigators, had an auto accident last Sunday that killed him and his wife and injured the other passengers in the back seat: his mother- and father- in-law.