Panama Finds Soviet MiG Fighters on Seized N. Korea Ship
WASHINGTON, July 22 (RIA Novosti) - Investigators in Panama discovered two Soviet-built MiG-21 fighter jets while unloading a North Korean ship that was seized last week with 240 tons of concealed weapons parts on board as it tried to enter the Panama Canal en route to North Korea from Cuba, media reports said Monday.
'Apparently these aircraft were in use because they had fuel,' Panama's President Ricardo Martinelli was quoted by Agence France-Presse news agency as saying during a visit to the Atlantic port city of Manzanillo on Sunday, where the boat's cargo was being unloaded.
The two supersonic fighter jets, originally produced by the Soviet Union in the late 1950s, were found in containers alongside two missile radar systems, Martinelli was quoted as saying.
Panamanian officials stopped the 510-foot (155 –meter) North Korea-flagged Chong Chon Gang a week ago on suspicion it was carrying drugs, but instead found a huge stash of weapons parts hidden beneath sacks of sugar.
Cuba said the weapons were obsolete and were being sent to North Korea to be refurbished before being returned to Cuba.
The Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs said last week that the vessel was also carrying two anti-aircraft missile complexes and the two Mig-21 Bis, along with 15 motors for those planes.
The BBC cited Panamanian officials as saying seven containers had been unloaded from the ship and opened, but more are believed to be still hidden beneath the ship's official cargo of sugar.
Martinelli was quoted by the BBC as saying the ship was thought to have 27 containers on board.
Panama last week charged the ship's captain and 35 crew members with 'attempts against Panama's security' and 'illegally transporting undeclared military equipment.'
The concealed weapons parts -- and now the two fighter jets found on the ship -- may also be a violation of the UN arms embargo imposed on Pyongyang over its nuclear and ballistic missile program.
Panama has asked the UN Security Council to investigate, and UN sanctions experts are expected to travel to Panama on August 5 to conduct a probe.
The ship, built in 1977 and registered to the state-owned, Pyongyang-based Chongchongang Shipping Company, 'has a long history of detentions for safety deficiencies and other undeclared reasons,' including suspected drug and ammunition trafficking, USAToday cited global shipping agency Lloyd's List as saying.
In 2010, the North Korean vessel was stopped by Ukrainian authorities in the Black Sea "for reasons that are unclear," USAToday said.
According to the BBC, the Chong Chon Gang began its latest voyage in Russia's far east in mid-April. Bound for Cuba, it entered the Panama Canal from the Pacific side in early June but disappeared from satellite tracking systems after exiting the canal on the Atlantic side.
After re-appearing on tracking systems July 11, it was stopped and searched near Manzanillo on July 15, when Panamanian officials found its cargo of contraband weapons parts, hidden beneath 10,000 tons of sugar.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|