North Korean vessel

North Korean cargo vessel Chong Chon Gang has set sail for Cuba, after it was detained near the Panama Canal for moving an illegal arms shipment in July 2013.

The ship had left the port of Colón with a crew of 32, on its journey back to the island nation on 15 February, Panama’s Foreign Ministry announced.

Staff members from the Embassy of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, in Havana, Cuba, the National Immigration Service and the Foreign Ministry arrived at the SENAN base of Columbus, where the crew of the Chong Chon Gang was located, to verify that everything was in order.

Chong Chon Gang was allowed to leave Panama after Pyongyang paid a fine of almost $700,000, but the captain and two other officers are still held in custody for prosecution.

Local authorities have reportedly found 25 containers of Cuban military hardware, including two MiG-21 aircraft, 15 MiG engines and nine anti-aircraft missiles hidden beneath the declared sugar cargo.

Following this, Cuba revealed that it was sending Soviet-era weapons to North Korea for repairs and that they were due to return to the Caribbean island. However, a report from UN experts confirmed that the shipment violated the international embargo.

Panama foreign minister Francisco Alvarez De Soto said: “In the case of the Chong Chon Gang, Panama acted correctly and the United Nations endorsed the effort made by our country, in accordance with international rules and multilateral obligations.”

“From a humanitarian point of view, the crew received all the appropriate assistance.”

Image: Chong Chon Gang cargo ship. Photo: courtesy of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Panama.