Photo: Tweeter: Panama President Ricardo Martinelli
Authorities have impounded a North Korea-flagged ship found to be carrying weapons, Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli said.
“The ship was on its way from Cuba to North Korea,” Martinelli told reporters, and indicated that “after removing the first layer” of sugar they found arms hidden in two containers.
The president, who went to the port of Manzanillo to learn more about the case, said they were dealing with “military and ballistic materiel,” and when reporters asked him whether missiles had been found, he said he didn’t know.
Television stations showed pictures of the weapons found: certain long, green devices with cone-shaped tips that were hidden under canvas.
“Honestly, this kind of military equipment can’t go through the country while declaring that it is something else, especially hiding it as you can see here,” Martinelli said, adding that the captain and crew violently resisted having their ship searched.
“We will continue to empty the entire ship to see what’s in it, and the relevant authorities will determine what exactly is on this ship,” he said.
Panama’s Security Minister Jose Raul Mulina said the two containers full of arms were found hidden under the cargo of sugar.
The captain and crew have been taken to a former U.S. military base called Fort Sherman and currently operated by the National Naval Air Service of Panama, where investigation into the case continues.
Consultations will be carried out with the United Nations to determine to which authority the detainees should be handed over if this is found to be a case of smuggling weapons of war.
Together with Martinelli and Mulino at the scene was anti-drugs prosecutor Javier Caraballo, who led the operation that discovered the arms.
According to Caraballo, the find was made possible thanks to an intelligence tip that mentioned a possible case of “illicit substances” being trafficked on the ship.
The freighter, which was set to cross the Panama Canal from the Caribbean to the Pacific Ocean, is undergoing a complete search to see if it holds any more undeclared cargo.