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If the loyalty of the crew of a North Korean cargo ship detained in Panama after weapons were found on board was ever in doubt, photographs from inside the ship suggest they were devoted to the rogue communist state’s ruling family.
At least two different rooms on the Chong Chon Gang had pictures of President Kim Il Sung - the founder of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – and his late son Kim Jong Il.
Both sets of photographs of the smiling, late dictators were given pride of place, high on the walls.
There were also photographs of the 35-strong crew, who have been detained in Fort Sherman, a former U.S. military base in Panama.
Other images from the ship showed more of the military equipment that was on its way from Cuba to North Korea -- possibly in breach of United Nations sanctions.
Cuba’s government said that the ship was carrying “240 metric tons of obsolete defensive weapons -- two anti-aircraft missile complexes Volga and Pechora, nine missiles in parts and spares, two Mig-21 Bis and 15 motors for this type of airplane, all of it manufactured in the mid-20th century -- to be repaired and returned to Cuba."
Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli said late Monday that “sophisticated missile equipment” had been found.
The U.N. is set to investigate the situation but one expert said he thought Cuba’s actions were a breach of the embargo.
James Hardy, Asia-Pacific editor of respected military affairs magazine Jane’s Defence Weekly, said the equipment Cuba said was on the ship was “pretty well covered” by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874.
The resolution says all member states shall “prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer” to North Korea of “any battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles or missile systems as defined for the purpose of the United Nations Register on Conventional Arms, or related materiel including spare parts.”
Hardy said that the “argument that it is just for repair doesn’t wash – it would be covered by ‘direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer.’”
“So in short, Cuba appears to be in breach – and pretty heavily,” he said.
Hardy added that the presence of MiG-21s in the shipment was “particularly intriguing given that North Korea has been trying to acquire MiG-21 engines and spare parts via a former Mongolian Air Force commander.”
However, he said that it was “probable” that Cuba was looking to have some of the equipment refurbished by North Korea.
“The S-125 Neva/Pechora … and S-75 Volga-M … systems are both in North Korean service … but Pyongyang is also believed to have more up-to-date systems in service, including an S-300 'look-alike' long-range surface-to-air missile system shown at a 2012 military parade,” Hardy added.
The United Nations said in a statement Tuesday that it expected Panama would notify the U.N.’s committee on North Korean sanctions and that an expert panel “created specifically to investigate such incidents will be conducting a thorough review.”
“If it is confirmed that the vessel was carrying arms or related materiel and that the shipment was part of a purchase or sale to or from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, then there would indeed be a breach of the U.N. sanctions regime relating to that country,” the U.N. statement said.