North Korean Ship Containing “Sophisticated Missile Equipment” Intercepted by Panama
President Ricardo Martinelli said the ship, stopped in the Panama Canal as it sailed from Cuba, contained suspected “sophisticated missile equipment”.
He posted a photo of what looked like a large green object inside a cargo container on his Twitter account.
The president said the 35-strong crew had resisted the search and the captain had tried to kill himself.
The US “commended” Panama for its actions, and said it strongly supported a full inspection of the ship.
The ship, the Chong Chon Gang, was stopped near Manzanillo on the Atlantic side of the canal last week.
It had left Russia’s far east in April and travelled across the Pacific Ocean before entering the canal at the start of June, with Cuba as its stated destination.
The ship had crossed the Pacific without its automatic tracking system switched on - a move described by the BBC’s security correspondent Frank Gardner as highly suspicious.
Panama’s Security Minister Jose Raul Mulino told the BBC that the ship - carrying 250,000 bags of sugar - was seized on 10 July after a tip-off that it was linked to drugs, but the “resistance and violence from the crew” delayed the search.
He said the suspected weaponry was found in two containers and did not rule out further “surprises” as the search of the ship continues.