The Panama Canal authority has announced that it may impose a of up to a million dollars on a North Korean cargo ship seized at the canal in July on the suspicion of transporting illegal arms.
Panama Canal administrator Jorge Quijano threatened to impose the fine on Thursday while describing the alleged “illegal arms - trafficking” incident as a “very serious” incident, Latin American media outlets reported Thursday.
“It is a flagrant violation of safe passage through the Panama Canal and we have no tolerance for this kind of activity, " said Quijano as quoted in the press reports.
The reports, however, indicate that while Quijano asserted that the fine against North Korea may be “up to USD1 million,” the US-backed Panamanian officials are “still discussing” the actual size of the fine. Authorities at Panama Canal boarded North Korea-flagged Chong Chon Gang cargo ship on July 10 as it entered the strategic waterway on the suspicion that it was carrying illicit drugs. However, they found that it was hauling 25 undeclared containers of military hardware covered with sacks of brown sugar from Cuba. Following the discovery, Panamanian authorities further charged the ship’s captain and its 35 crew members with "attempts against Panama's security" and "illegally transporting undeclared military equipment." After the seizure, Havana and Pyongyang both disclosed that the ship was carrying outdated weaponry for repairs in North Korea and shipment back to Cuba as part of a legitimate contract that was paid by the ship’s Cuban sugar cargo. According to Cuban Foreign Ministry officials, the North Korean freighter was carrying two anti-aircraft missile complexes, nine missile parts and spares, two Mig-21s and 15 engines for the aircraft, all of which were manufactured in the mid-20th century. Meanwhile, a group of experts from the UN Security Council committee that monitors sanctions against North Korea has reportedly arrived in Panama to determine whether the cargo vessel has violated a UN arms embargo against Pyongyang over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.