Photo: Chong Chon Gang vessel
Almost all the crew members - 32 out of 35 - of the North Korean ship detained in the Panama Canal last July for transporting Cuban arms without declaring them, and who were freed last month, will leave on the vessel that was released Saturday after the officers in charge paid the fine levied on them.
The legal representative of the North Korean crew in Panama, Julio Berrios, told Efe that the 32 mariners not charged with any crime “are leaving on the ship” which will soon weigh anchor, though the exact date was not stated.
Another three crew members of the Chong Chon Gang vessel must stay in Panama pending the outcome of their legal proceedings, the attorney said in a telephone conversation.
The three North Koreans in detention are accused of threatening public security - a crime punishable with up to 12 years in jail - by smuggling an arsenal of weapons under 200,000 sacks of sugar.
The Panama Canal Authority, or ACP, said in a communique that representatives of the Chong Chon Gang on Saturday paid the $693,333 fine imposed on the ship.
The three crew members still facing legal trouble are the ship’s captain, his first officer and the political officer, who, according to documentation seized from the vessel, were perfectly aware of the presence of weapons on the Chong Chon Gang.
The arms, including missile platforms and two modern Mig-21 jet fighters along with new motors for them and other fittings, were disembarked and taken to the old Howard Air Force Base, today the Panama-Pacifico International Airport, 5 kilometers (3 miles) west of the Panamanian capital.
The United Nations team said in a preliminary report that the North Korean ship violated the resolutions blocking Pyongyang from importing or exporting any kind of armaments.