Alejandro Bolivar / EPA file
A group of men work clearing a container hidden in the North Korean flagged ship Chong Chon Gang, docked at the pier in Manzanillo, Colon, Panama, in July. The ship was carrying missile system components cloaked in a cargo of sugar.
Thirty-two of 35 crew members and a North Korean ship seized for carrying hidden arms from Cuba will be released, a Panamanian prosecutor said Wednesday.
Three of the crew members, including the captain, will be detained and face charges of arms trafficking, said organized crime prosecutor Nahaniel Murgas.
"The 32 are being released because they didn't know about the cargo," Murgas said.
The ship, Chong Chon Gang, was headed from Cuba to North Korea when it was seized in the canal July 15 based on intelligence that it may have been carrying drugs.
The manifest said it was carrying 10,000 tons of sugar, but Cuban military equipment was found beneath the sacks. Crews unloading a North Korean-flagged ship detained found planes, missiles and live munitions on board.
It was not immediately clear if a $1 million fine that the Panamanian government demanded for release of the ship had been paid.
A North Korean delegation arrived last week to negotiate the return of the ship and crew.
Officials say the ship carried two Cuban fighter jets in perfect condition, contradicting Cuba's explanation that the cargo included "obsolete defensive weapons."
— The Associated Press
First published November 27 2013, 9:49 AM