03 May 2014 – The North Korean vessel “Chong Chon Gang, ” which was detained in Panama in 2013 as it tried to cross the Panama Canal with undeclared Cuban weapons on board, is finally headed back home. (source: Captain Frank Marmol)
“It exited the Canal last night past 11 p.m., there were no issues with the transit, ” said Panama Canal Administrator Jorge Quijano.
Attorney Julio Berrios, who represented the ship’s crew, said it is bound for Pyongyang with 10, 200 tons of sugar on board.
The North Korean freighter had been scheduled to leave Wednesday, but was delayed due to problems in the engine and electrical system.
The ship was detained on July 10, 2013, on suspicion that it was carrying drugs, but when authorities searched it they found Cuban arms, such as Mig-21 aircraft parts, missile launchers and military vehicles, hidden in containers under tons of sugar.
The boat came from Cuba and headed for North Korea with 35 crew members. Three of them, including the captain, are still detained in Panama for arms trafficking.
On Feb. 15, the other 32 crew members returned with the boat to Cuba, where it was loaded again with sugar.
“These 32 crew members are on the boat heading home along with a new captain and a new first officer, ” said Berrios. “The ship had several malfunctions that could not be repaired in Cuba, ” continued the attorney, who acknowledged that the crew “destroyed computers and damaged the engine at the time of the boarding” to avoid giving clues about the weapons hidden on board.
Local authorities said that the ship’s captain tried to commit suicide during his detention. The freighter also was fined $1 million, an amount that was later reduced, for violating the Canal’s security measures.