PANAMA CITY — Panama has charged the crew of a North Korean ship detained in Panama after it was found to be carrying weapons.
Prosecutor Javier Caraballo accused the 35 crew members of endangering public security by illegally transporting war material.
The charges came just hours after North Korea urged Panama to release the ship and its crew without delay.
Police found the weapons under bags of sugar. Cuba has said it had sent the weapons to North Korea for repairs.
Panama has asked the UN to investigate whether there has been a breach of the sanctions against North Korea.
The UN sanctions prohibit the supply of arms to Pyongyang in the dispute over its controversial nuclear programme.
“According to its declaration, the ship only carried 10,000 tonnes sugar, it never declared war material and that in itself is a violation of the rules and a grave danger for the transit through the Panama canal,” Caraballo said.
He said the crew had remained silent when the charges against them were brought.
They will remain in detention while Panamanian security forces continue to unload the cargo under which the weapons were hidden.
Panama’s Security Minister Jose Raul Mulino said the ship and its cargo had broken Panamanian and international law.
“This is not an official or military ship belonging to the North Korean government.”
“It’s a commercial ship which wanted to pass through the Panama canal with a [cargo] declaration which failed to reflect what it was carrying, turning a blind eye to the fact that its cargo could be violating UN resolutions,” he said.
According to the security minister, the search could take days. (BBC)