PANAMA CITY -- A North Korean ship carrying weapons system parts buried under sacks of sugar was seized as it tried to cross the Panama Canal on its way from Cuba to its home country, which is barred by UN sanctions from importing sophisticated weapons or missiles, Panamanian officials said Tuesday.
A private defense analysis firm that examined a photograph of the find said the ship appeared to be transporting a radar-control system for a Soviet-era surface-to-air missile system, and Cuba later called the equipment on the boat "obsolete defensive weapons" from the mid-20th century.
Cuba's Foreign Ministry late Tuesday acknowledged that the military equipment belonged to the Caribbean nation, but said it had been shipped out to be repaired and returned to the island. It said the 240 metric tons of weaponry consisted of two Volga and Pechora anti-aircraft missile systems, nine missiles "in parts and spares," two MiG-21 bis and 15 engines for those fighter jets.
"The agreements subscribed by Cuba in this field are supported by the need to maintain our defensive capacity in order to preserve national sovereignty," the statement read.
Earlier, Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli said the ship identified as the 14,000-ton Chong Chon Gang was carrying missiles and other arms "hidden in containers underneath the cargo of sugar."
Martinelli tweeted a photo showing a green tube that appears to be a horizontal antenna for the SNR-75 "Fan Song" radar, which used to guide missiles fired by the SA-2 air-defense system found in former Warsaw Pact and Soviet nations, said Neil Ashdown, an analyst for IHS Jane's Intelligence. -- AP