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Lessons From North Korea on Using Brown Sugar to Smuggle a Bunch of Weapons

Lessons From North Korea on Using Brown Sugar to Smuggle a Bunch of Weapons
Reuters

A North Korean cargo ship was seized by authorities in Panama after being suspected of hiding missiles in a shipment of brown sugar from Cuba. The seizure lead to a standoff in which the ship’s captain tried to slit his own throat.

The ship was stopped last week as it headed into the Panama Canal from Cuba. Authorities arrested the 35-person crew on Monday after resisting orders "for days." The crew tried to sabotage the ship at first, cutting cables on the cranes used for unloading cargo. Panama officials reported finding undeclared "missile-shaped objects" which could be a violation of United Nations sanctions imposed on North Korea in response to its nuclear program.

Cuban officials said the Soviet-era weapons were being sent back to North Korea for repair.

 But Panamanian authorities said it might take a week to thoroughly search the ship, and that they've only examined one of the ships five container sections so far.

According to Panama President Ricard Martinelli, Panamanian officials initially thought the ship was carrying drugs, only to discover what appeared to be missiles hidden underneath containers of brown sugar. The president himself tweeted out a photo of the missile-like object.

The captain who tried to slit his throat with a knife is now in stable condition at a hospital according to a police official. In a Reuters report, a North Korea security expert from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government says the suicide attempt may have been an effort to escape severe punishment by North Korea officials.

The ship itself, named "Chong Chon Gang" was built in 1977. In 2010, Ukrainian authorities found small-arms ammunition and narcotics aboard after stopping the ship.

Below, via Reuters, a look inside Chong Chon Gang as Panamanian officials get a look inside the North Korean vessel: 


North Korean container ship ''Chong Chon Gang'' docks at the Manzanillo International Container Terminal in Colon City July 16, 2013. (REUTERS/Carlos Jasso) 


A tugboat is seen next to North Korean container ship ''Chong Chon Gang'' at the Manzanillo International Container Terminal in Colon City July 16, 2013. (REUTERS/Carlos Jasso) 


A view from on board North Korean flagged ship "Chong Chon Gang" docked at the Manzanillo Container Terminal in Colon City July 16, 2013. (REUTERS/Carlos Jasso)   


A worker inspects the North Korean flagged ship "Chong Chon Gang" docked at the Manzanillo Container Terminal in Colon City July 16, 2013. (REUTERS/Carlos Jasso) 


Portraits of former leader Kim Jong-il (R) and former president Kim Il-sung are seen in one of the rooms inside a North Korean flagged ship "Chong Chon Gang" docked at the Manzanillo Container Terminal in Colon City July 16, 2013. (REUTERS/Carlos Jasso) 


Portraits of crew are seen in one of the rooms inside a North Korean flagged ship "Chong Chon Gang" docked at the Manzanillo Container Terminal in Colon City July 16, 2013. (REUTERS/Carlos Jasso) 


Bags labeled "Cuban Raw Sugar" are seen inside a North Korean flagged ship "Chong Chon Gang" docked at the Manzanillo Container Terminal in Colon City July 16, 2013. (REUTERS/Carlos Jasso) 


A worker stands next to bags labeled "Cuban Raw Sugar" are seen inside a North Korean flagged ship "Chong Chon Gang" docked at the Manzanillo Container Terminal in Colon City July 16, 2013. (REUTERS/Carlos Jasso) 


A long, green missile-shaped object is seen inside the North Korean flagged ship "Chong Chon Gang" docked at the Manzanillo Container Terminal in Colon City July 16, 2013. (REUTERS/Carlos Jasso) 

Mark Byrnes is an associate editor at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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