This blog has reported twice (here and here) on the seizure by the Panamanians of the Nork vessel, the Chong Chon Gang, by Panamanians after they discovered a boatload (so to speak) of Cuban weapons on the vessel headed for North Korea. Among the more telling aspects of the story is that the weapons were hidden under mountains of sugar and that the ship’s captain attempted suicide during the course of the search. Notwithstanding this, both the Cubans and the Norks steadfastly maintained that there was nothing to see here, that everything was on the up and up, and that everyone should just move on.
Well, the United Nations Panel of Experts convened to investigate compliance with U.N. sanctions against North Korea has decided that there was indeed plenty to see here. Its just-issued report highlights the Chong Chon Gang incident (as well as other Nork shenanigans) as evidence of persistent efforts by North Korea to evade U.N. Sanctions. Here are some interesting highlights used by the report to bolster its conclusion that the Chong Chon Gang shipment violated U.N. sanctions on the prohibition of shipments of arms and materiel by member states such as Cuba to North Korea.
The panel rejected Cuba’s risible, if not hilarious, argument that the sanction prohibiting “transfer” of arms and materiel to North Korea was not violated because Cuba retained ownership of the arms being shipped to North Korea for overhaul and maintenance. The Panel correctly pointed out that such a distinction would allow countries to lease weapons to North Korea, an absurd result inconsistent with the purpose of the sanctions.
More importantly, the panel rejected the argument by pointing to the evidence of elaborate attempts by Cuba and North Korea to conceal the nature of the shipment. This argument might be summarized as “If you don’t have anything to hide, why are you so busy trying to hide it?” Among the evasive tactics cited by the Panel (above and beyond burying the stuff under a mountain of sugar) were the following:
- After discharging its cargo in Havana, the ship drifted for 10 days in the sea north of Cuba before sailing to Mariel where it took on the weapons cargo.
- Although documents were found on the ship identifying the consignor and consignee of the sugar shipment, no such documents were found with respect to the concealed weapons.
- The ship’s route and position were concealed by switching off the ship’s automatic identification system.
- False documents were submitted to the Panama Canal Authority which omitted Mariel, where the weapons were loaded, from the list of prior ports visited.
- The vessel ignored the standard practice of loading dangerous cargo, which included ammunition, rockets and explosives, at the top of the ship, loading it instead deep in the hold where it could be concealed by the sugar cargo. The weight of the sugar could have contributed to a catastrophic explosion, endangering the ship, its crew and nearby ships and their crew. Clearly concealment was a higher priority than safety.
There’s more in the Panel Report, including a detour involving Dennis Rodman’s Happy Birthday, Mr. Dictator celebrity tour, so stay tuned for future posts on Nork sanction evasion techniques.