Panama's president tweets pictures of missiles found hidden in North Korean ship's sugar cargo after it sailed from Cuba

  • President Ricardo Martinelli said 'sophisticated missile equipment' found
  • The ship was intercepted as it approached the Panama Canal
  • 35-man crew 'rioted when stopped and captain tried to kill himself'

PUBLISHED: 04:50 EST, 16 July 2013 | UPDATED: 01:39 EST, 17 July 2013

Panama has detained a North Korean-flagged ship after it was found to be carrying undeclared weapons hidden underneath sugar containers, the country's president said.

President Ricardo Martinelli said the ship, the Chong Chon Gang, was intercepted as it approached the Panama Canal from Cuba and as it was stopped the 35-man crew rioted and the captain tried to kill himself.

The 'sophisticated missile equipment', hidden in containers of brown sugar, was detected after Panamanian authorities stopped the ship, suspecting it was carrying drugs.

Martinelli said the undeclared military cargo appeared to include missiles and non-conventional arms and the ship was violating United Nations resolutions against arms trafficking.

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Panama President Ricardo Martinelli tweeted this picture of what he said were undeclared weapons and later identified as outdated, Soviet-era arms

The president announced the ship had been detained through Twitter

North Korean missiles seized in Panama

Panamanian authorities have only searched one of the ship's five cargo holds so far, said Luis Eduardo Camacho, a spokesman for the president.

'This material not being declared and Panama being a neutral country, a country in peace, that doesn't like war, we feel very worried about this war material and we don't know what else will have... passed through the Panama Canal,' Martinelli said.

The governments of North Korea and Cuba have so far not commented on Martinelli's remarks.

Hugh Griffiths, an arms trafficking expert at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, said the seized ship is called Chong Chon Gang and has been on the institute's suspect list for some time.

He said the ship had been caught before for trafficking narcotics and small arms ammunition. It was stopped in 2010 in the Ukraine and was attacked by pirates 400 miles off the coast of Somalia in 2009.

Griffiths' institute has also been interested in the ship because of a stop it made in 2009 in Tartus - a Syrian port city hosting a Russian naval base.

The vessel was pulled over near the port of Manzanillo on the Atlantic side of the canal.
The 35-man crew on board the Chong Chon Gang (pictured at the Panama port) rioted and the captain tried to kill himself when Panamanian authorities intercepted it

The crew have been arrested and the ship has been detained at the Manzanillo International terminal

The ship was stopped on the way to the Panama Canal (file picture) on suspicion it was carrying drugs

'We're going to keep unloading the ship and figure out exactly what was inside,' Martinelli told Panamanian television late on Monday, without giving further details.
'The world needs to sit up and take note: You cannot go around shipping undeclared weapons of war through the Panama Canal.'
Griffiths also said the institute earlier this year reported to the U.N. a discovery it made of a flight from Cuba to North Korea that travelled via central Africa.

'Given the history of North Korea, Cuban military cooperation and now this latest seizure, we find this flight more interesting,' he said. 'After this incident there should be renewed focus on North Korean-Cuban links.'

Martinelli said the captain had a heart attack and also tried to commit suicide during the operation.
He said authorities had been tipped off some days ago that the ship might be carrying drugs.

Undercover? The bags were labeled Cuban Raw Sugar

Not so sweet: Cuba officially identified the equipment late Tuesday as two Volga and Pechora anti-aircraft missile systems, nine missiles, two Mig-21 Bis and 15 engines for those airplanes

World tour: Authorities in Panama say the ship was travelling from the Pacific coast of Russia to North Korea via the Panama Canal after a stop in Havanna

He posted a picture of what appeared to be a green tubular object sitting inside a cargo container or the ship's hold.
A spokeswoman for the canal said she did not have any more information and referred questions to the attorney general and the office did not immediately return requests for comment.
Javier Caraballo, Panama's top anti-drugs prosecutor, told local television the ship was en route to North Korea.

The Communist country is barred from importing large weapons under United Nations sanctions.

The UN strengthened sanctions against the country in March following it nuclear tests that set tensions rising in the area.

About 15,000 ships pass through the canal every year.