Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Panama seizes North Korean Ship

I am in between meetings right now, but thought I take the time to touch on a topic which started to unfold on Monday in Panama. Authorities in Panama seized the North Korean ship Chong Chon Gang was on its way back to North Korea from Cuba and had to cross the Panama Canal. The cargo was supposed to be 10,000 tons of sugar, but Panamanian authorities inspected the vessel on suspicions it carried illegal drugs.

Panamanian authorities were wrong as the Chong Chon Gang did not carry illegal drugs and indeed carried 10,000 tons of sugar. Between the sugar the North Korean ship also carried the following:

  • Anti-aircraft missile systems
  • Missile parts
  • 2 MiG-21 Fighter Jets
  • Fire-control radar
The list is not complete as Panamanian authorities need to check the rest of the cargo and deployed 350 workers in order to help unload the ship while it also invited UN inspectors to open the cargo. The Cuban Foreign Ministry claimed that the weapons were defensive weapons and shipped off for repair before being returned back to Cuba.

UN Security Council Resolution 1718, unanimously approved by all members, bans the direct sale of combat aircraft as well as missile systems to North Korea as well as any indirect assistance in order for North Korea to obtain those weapons. The captain of the Chong Chon Gang apparently attempted to commit suicide while the remaining detained 35 crew members remain hostile to authorities in Panama.

The U.S., short on power on all fronts, praises Panama for its behavior and feels it scored an indirect victory. Panama should thread carefully as the time is coming to make a decision on which country to be supportive off, its direct neighbors or a far away distant ally. While everyone congratulates each other on this development, the question out there remains about how many such shipments successfully arrived in North Korea and what the cargo there was.

I am a bit concerned about developments in the region which for now seem to be moderately contained. This will sour relations between two countries which do not deal with each other, but North Korea’s big ally may indirectly support its much smaller neighbor. North Korea poses a threat no doubt and it seems to be only a matter of time until the keg explodes and we are dealing with a serious global security issue.

I am headed to my second meeting as this matter is not of great importance, at least not for now. I am sure I will get an updated list with all of the cargo carried by the North Korean ship Chong Chon Gang and we will briefly discuss this development at our end-of-day meeting. I doubt too many people are even aware of what happened in Panama on Monday and it is probably better to keep the ignorant in the dark.


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