“Sophisticated missile equipment” was discovered hidden in sugar in a North Korean cargo ship transiting the Panama Canal, despite the crew’s violent resistance to search.
The captain tried to kill himself when the search continued, and the entire crew of 35 was detained so officers could search the ship fully.
The ship, called the Chong Chon Gang, was stopped on the Atlantic side of the canal near Manzanillo on its way from Cuba, the BBC reports.
“We feel very worried about this war material and we don’t know what else will have… passed through the Panama Canal,” Panama’s President Ricardo Martinelli said. “Panama [is] a neutral country, a country in peace, that doesn’t like war,” he said.
Panama’s Security Minister said that it was the crew’s “violent” reaction to the search that caused officials to become suspicious and to extend the search.
Though the authorities were primarily looking for drugs, they found the “suspected weapons” in containers of brown sugar. President Martinelli described the material as “sophisticated missile equipment.”
He posted pictures of the hidden materials on Twitter.
Though so far only one of the ship’s holds has been searched, the president has spoken to local media about the issue.
“We’re going to keep unloading the ship and figure out exactly what was inside,” he said.
The captain and crew have been detained.
After numerous nuclear tests, the United Nations has banned North Korea from all weapons exports since February. They are limited to the import of only small arms.
With an ongoing missile development program, it is believed that North Korea is attempting to develop a nuclear warhead.
Neither North Korea nor Cuba have yet commented.