UN blacklists North Korea arms ship operator

North Korean cargo ship, the Chong Chon Gang, at anchor in front of the Sherman Base, near Colon in Panama The Chong Chon Gang was carrying military hardware including two Soviet-era MiG-21 fighters

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The UN Security Council has blacklisted the operator of a North Korean ship seized in July 2013 near the Panama Canal with Cuban weapons on board.

The move means Pyongyang-based Ocean Maritime Management is now subject to an international asset freeze and travel ban.

The company operated the Chong Chon Gang, found with Soviet-era weapons and fighter jets hidden under sugar sacks.

United Nations sanctions ban most arms shipments to North Korea.

Under resolutions adopted after Pyongyang's nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, the export of all arms and related parts, with the exception of small arms and light weapons, to the communist country is prohibited.

'Cynical attempt'

The UN's North Korea sanctions committee said that the company had "played a key role in arranging the shipment of the concealed cargo of arms".

Chong Chon Gang's route

Map showing the route that the Chong Chon Gang took before being seized in Panama
  1. Departs from Nakhodka in Russian far east (200km east of North Korean border)
  2. Arrives at Pacific side of Panama Canal
  3. Leaves the Panama Canal on the Caribbean side heading for Havana, but disappears from satellite tracking
  4. Arrives back at Panamanian port of Manzanillo; later searched for contraband. Weapons uncovered

The move showed "intent to evade UN sanctions, and is consistent with previous attempts by the DPRK (North Korea) to transfer arms and related materiel through similar tactics in contravention of Security Council prohibitions", the committee said.

The Chong Chon Gang was stopped near Manzanillo, on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal, on 15 July 2013 under suspicion that it was carrying drugs.

It had disappeared from satellite tracking for a few days as it approached the Cuban capital, Havana, having departed from Russia's eastern coast three months earlier.

On searching the vessel, officials found military hardware including two Soviet-era MiG-21 fighter aircraft, air defence systems, missiles and command and control vehicles.

Cuban authorities said that the ship was carrying 240 tonnes of "obsolete" defensive weapons.

The North Korean government insisted the ageing weapons were simply being transferred to North Korea to be repaired, before returning them.

The US envoy to the UN, Samantha Power, described the episode as a "cynical, outrageous and illegal attempt" by Cuba and North Korea to circumvent UN sanctions.

In February the ship and most of the crew were allowed to leave Panama and a court later ordered the release of the remaining three officers.

Annotated image of North Korean ship

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