Posted by: Alex Dmuchovsky
As many people know (or could reasonably infer), the Republic of Panama has been the epicenter of transcontinental shipping for decades, following the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 under administration of the United States. The Panamanian government has only recently acquired control over the canal (officially in 1999), although the transfer of management has been long planned. One would be accurate in assuming that, of the millions and millions of tons of cargo transported through the canal annually, a significant percentage of cargo would be comprised of illicit material, some of which could potentially spark international conflict.
As of 15 July 2013, such controversial materials have been intercepted on a ship passing through the canal by Panamanian officials. Not very news-worthy material until you consider this: the cargo in question was found on a North Korean freighter (the “Chong Chong Gang”), making a return trip from Cuba. Due to North Korea’s current international restrictions, especially concerning weapons, this development leads questions as to just how compliant North Korea is behaving with the U.N., and also leads questions concerning the international relationship between Cuba and North Korea (both of which have a history and are currently known to be troublemakers in the global dynamic).
With its integrity at stake as a conduit for safe AND legal international trade, Panamanian officials immediately sent word out to both the United States and the U.N., requesting an official inspection of the ship and its contents. No more than a month later, U.N. officials arrived in Panama for inspection, however were met with some resistance: crew members cut cables to cranes to slow the process and the ship’s captain even attempted to commit suicide during the search. Investigators were able to identify two anti-aircraft missile systems, nine missiles (in parts and spares), two MiG-21 jets and 15 motors for this type of plane. The captain and 35 members of the crew are all charged with international arms trafficking.