Yonhap publishes table of ROK aid to DPRK

August 18th, 2013

From 2001 until 2013.


Here is the source.


UN WFP and FAO Report food shortages

August 18th, 2013

According to Yonahp (via Global Post):

Eight out of 10 North Korean people are suffering from food shortages this year, with nearly 20 percent of children younger than five severely malnourished, a report by the U.N. food body has said.

According to the quarterly report the World Food Program (WFP) published on its assistance project for the communist country, 81 percent out of 115 households there were found to be in the category of “poor food consumption” or fall in the category between having adequate and poor food consumption in the second quarter of this year.

Of the surveyed, 76 percent coped with the crisis either by relying on support from others or eating cheaper food. Some 14 percent reduced their portions with 3 percent skipping meals, the report showed.

Thanks to Pyongyang’s increased food rations and the international organization’s aid, things have improved from a year earlier when 87 percent of the people surveyed suffered from shortages, according to the report.

The WFP’s earlier report showed that the North Korean government is providing more food rations to its people in 2013 than the previous year despite a drop in overseas aid. In the communist country, 66 percent of the total population, or about 16 million people, receive state food rations.

The agency, however, said the situation “remains fragile,” with the frequency of protein consumption “very low and unlikely meeting requirements.”

The WFP also said its visit to 120 pediatric hospitals found that 17 percent of the children under the age of five admitted to suffering from acute malnutrition.

Of the children admitted to hospitals, some 88 percent suffered from diarrhea, followed by 82 percent showing symptoms of respiratory infections and 49 percent indigestion, the report showed.

The WFP said it reached 1.46 million beneficiaries each month during the second quarter of the year, distributing a total of 10,489 metric tons of food. It also conducted 764 rounds of field visits to ensure its assistance arrived and was utilized properly.

According to Yonhap (via Global Post):

North Korea’s food procurement effort has been inadequate to cover the expected shortfall for this year, a media report based on data provided by an international agriculture agency said Friday.

The quarterly report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations showed Pyongyang has been able to secure 290,600 tons of various grains from abroad from November 2012 through June of this year, the Voice of America (VOA) said.

The Washington-based media outlet said the total is equal to just 57 percent of the 507,000 tons the North needs to secure by October to prevent a food shortage for its people.

The latest findings come a day after the World Food Program (WFP) claimed eight out of 10 North Koreans are suffering from food shortages this year, with nearly 20 percent of children younger than five severely malnourished.

The percentage of people suffering food shortages, however, fell from 87 percent tallied the year before, the WFP said.

Despite the risk of shortage, the North has been able to increase its daily food rations for its people in the first seven months of this year to 397 grams per person, up 14 grams from the year before.

North Korea watchers also said that with Pyongyang placing emphasis on strengthening its agricultural sector, there have been some improvements in food conditions in the country compared to the past.

As per usual, the articles provided neither the titles of the reports nor links. Many UN reports on the DPRK can be found on my DPRK Economic Statistics Page.

The UN is appealing for funding for its DPRK relief programs. According to Yonhap:

The United Nations on Thursday appealed for US$98 million from the international community to help North Koreans in need, saying its humanitarian projects there are drastically underfunded.

Of the overall funding requirement of $150 million for 2013, $98 million is still urgently needed for food and agricultural support, health and nutrition, water and sanitation, according to the global body.

“While the overall humanitarian situation has improved slightly over the last 12 months, the structural causes of people’s vulnerability persist,” U.N. Resident Coordinator Ghulam Isaczai said in an emailed statement. “External assistance continues to play a vital role in safeguarding the lives of millions whose food security, nutritional status and essential health needs would otherwise be seriously compromised.”

Around 16 million people of the 24 million population are chronically short on food, his office said.

For cereal alone, the cereal for the 2012-13 marketing year is estimated at 507,000 metric tons, with serious gaps remaining between recommended and actual nutrient intake, widely due also to a lack of dietary diversity, it said.

“Without sustained humanitarian support, the gains made the past 10 years in improving food security and the overall health and nutrition of the most vulnerable — children, pregnant and nursing mothers, and the elderly — could be quickly reversed,” said Isaczai.

He urged U.N. member states to draw a line between political and humanitarian issues, as efforts to denuclearize North Korea have been stalled for years.

“We hope that donors will respond quickly and generously to allow U.N. agencies to address the humanitarian situation,” he said. “Separating humanitarian needs from political issues is a prerequisite for a sustainable improvement in the condition of people.”

Read the full stories here:
80 pct of N. Koreans suffer food shortages: WFP
Yonahp (via Global Post)

N. Korea food procurement effort inadequate to cover shortfalls: report
Yonhap (via Global Post)


“Hoeryong Food Street” reopens

August 16th, 2013


Pictured Above: The Hoeryong Food Avenue (Google Earth)

According to Radio Free Asia:

A shuttered special food court established by former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il as a showcase for “high quality dishes at reasonable prices” has reopened and is being allowed to operate independent of the government in a rare move seen by some as reflecting economic reforms.

The center in Hoeryong city in North Hamgyong province bordering China was closed several months after its opening in November 2010 because the management faced financial problems as it could not meet production costs based on food sold to the public at prices dictated by the authorities, sources said.

North Hamgyong authorities recently allowed the Hoeryong Special Food Court to reopen and operate on an “autonomous” basis under new economic management methods introduced last year by Kim Jong Il’s son, Kim Jong Un, who took over after his father’s death in December 2011, the sources told RFA’s Korean Service.

“In order to meet the demands of the New Economic Management System, [the ruling] Workers Party provincial offices allowed the restaurant owners at Hoeryong Special Food Court to operate on an autonomous management basis,” one source in North Hamgyeong province said.

But some observers said the authorities had no choice but to allow the food center to set prices on its own to keep the operations alive, adding that any reform excuse was just an eyewash.

North Korea raced to build the food court after Kim Jong Il proposed it during a visit to his mother’s home town in 2009. He directed government funding of U.S. $800,000 for the project, which was completed in November 2010.

When he inspected the food court a month later, he ordered that it serve people with “high quality dishes at reasonable prices,” asking it to follow in the footsteps of another food outlet, Okryu Restaurant, in Pyongyang.

Operating cost

The source in North Hamgyong province said that the Hoeryong Special Food Court tried to adjust its prices to keep in tandem with those of Okryu Restaurant but could not cope with operating costs.

“During the initial months of operations, the North Korean authorities [subsidized prices] but soon after, the restaurants lost support from the government, thus it went out of business,” another source in the province said.

Even though the authorities did not provide support, they continued to regulate the food prices to make them 75 percent cheaper than those of regular restaurants,” the source said. “Therefore, the owners were suffering from financial difficulties.”

Some sources complain that under the new management of the Hoeryong Special Food Court, food prices have shot up rapidly. In addition, food that is not on the menu is served.

For instance, a seafood specialty restaurant serves steak while a steak house offers noodles, one source complained.

“Before at Hoeryong restaurant, cold noodles were 1,000 North Korean won (about 17 cents), and one bottle of Korean distilled spirits was 800 won (about 10 cents), but after the owners got authority to manage independently, the price of cold noodles went up to 4,000 won (about 68 cents) and one bottle of Korean distilled spirits up to 2,000 won (about 34 cents).

Read the full story here:
Special North Korean Food Court Allowed to Operate Independently
Radio Free Asia
Sung Hui Moon


KCNA on the DPRK’s economic progress

August 16th, 2013

Here is a recent article in KCNA on economic advancements. I post as a reference to what the North Koreans are most proud of when it comes to economic management.

DPRK Directs Efforts to Developing Economy

Pyongyang, August 16 (KCNA) — Marshal Kim Jong Un, in the 2013 New Year Address, set the building of a strong economy as a key issue in accomplishing the cause of building a thriving socialist nation.

In response to his New Year Address, the people in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have made fresh upsurge in all economic sectors in the spirit of the “Masikryong Speed”.

Readjustment of the West Sea Barrage-Sinchon-Kangryong and Ongjin waterways was finished in ten days, while more than 1,000 hectares of fruit field has come into being in Pukchong County, South Hamgyong Province.

The Pyongyang Essential Foodstuff Factory and the Phyongsong Synthetic Leather Factory have become streamlined and the Vitamin C Factory and the Turf Research Center of the State Academy of Science were newly built on a modern basis.

Lots of industrial establishments across the country finished the first half-yearly assignments ahead of schedule.

The country’s science witnessed big achievements during the first half of the year.

The 10th national sci-tech presentation and show in the field of nano-technology and national sci-tech presentation in the field of mining industry took place, and an IT presentation was held on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Central Agency for Information of Science and Technology.

More than 140,000 hectares of land were afforested, 590 kilometers of roads repaired and 2,100 kilometers of riversides improved.

The Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum was newly built in a wonderful way on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Korean people’s victory in the Fatherland Liberation War (June 1950-July 1953).

The Rungna People’s Sports Park and Pyongyang International Football School were also built in Pyongyang.

A wave of innovations have been registered in building the Masik Pass Ski Resort, the reclamation project of the Sepho Tableland, the expansion project of the Kosan Fruit Farm and the construction of the second-stage Huichon Power Station.

The same is true with the construction sites of apartment houses for scientists, children’s hospital, dental hospital, Munsu Wading Pool and Mirim Riding Club.

All these projects are carried on as part of the efforts for implementing the plan of Kim Jong Un on turning the country into an economic giant.


2013 flooding compendium

August 16th, 2013

UPDATE 9 (2013-8-16): ROK Red Cross to provide $100,000 flood relief to DPRK. According to Yonhap:

The Korean Red Cross plans to provide North Korea with an emergency fund of US$100,000 to help flood victims in the communist country, an official from the organization said Friday.

“The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has asked for our participation in supporting the flood-hit North Korea,” the official said.

“In accordance, we’ve decided in humanitarian terms to send $100,000 to the IFRC to provide the victims there with relief goods.” he added.

The money, which comes from the Korean Red Cross’ own funds reserved for inter-Korean exchanges, is expected to be transferred to an IFRC bank account next week, according to the official.

The IFRC data showed that torrential rains since early July have caused extensive flooding and landslides across the impoverished communist country, killing 33 people and injuring 2 others with 18 still missing. An estimated 4,000 families have lost their homes and 50,000 have been displaced.

The international agency said earlier this month that it has allocated 299,744 Swiss franc to help the North Korean victims, with their relief operation to continue until the end of October.

Last year, the Korean Red Cross provided Pyongyang with $100,000 to help those who suffered from heavy precipitations.

UPDATE 8 (2013-8-6): The UN and South Koreans are contributing to flood relief. According to Yonhap:

The World Food Program (WFP) spokeswoman Nanna Skau said corn is being provided to households that have been hit hard by recent flooding caused by torrential rain, Radio Free Asia reported. She added that assistance is being offered because flooding has caused extensive damage to farmlands and irrigation systems.

The radio broadcast monitored in Seoul said distribution of the grain will continue for the next 30 days, with each recipient being allocated 400 grams per day.

The WFP also said support will be provided to 38,067 people in 10 cities and counties in Pyongan, Hwanghae and Hamgyong provinces.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said torrential rains that caused flooding and landslides left 33 North Koreans dead and displaced roughly 50,000 people from their homes. In places such as Anju in South Pyongan Province, some 80 percent of the city was flooded, resulting in extensive damage to homes and buildings.

Related to the international food effort underway, Korean Sharing Movement, a South Korean non-governmental organization, said it wanted to send emergency food aid to the North and requested permission from Seoul’s Ministry of Unification, which oversees inter-Korean affairs.

The civic groups pointed out that emergency aid shipments have always been permitted in the past regardless of the state of inter-Korean relations.

Cross-border ties have been strained following the North’s detonation of its third nuclear device in February and subsequent tightening of international sanctions. The shutting down of the joint factory park in Kaesong further strained relations.

Seoul has officially maintained that it will allow shipments of humanitarian aid to the North, but made clear it needs to first verify the extent of the flood damage. Officials have cited urgency and ability to make certain that relief will reach those in greatest need as conditions that must be met for aid to be provided. Last week, South Korea approved aid shipments by five local civic organizations.

Reflecting the country’s humanitarian aid policy, the South and North Exchange and Cooperation Promotion Council, which is chaired by the unification minister, approved sending more than US$6.03 million for relief programs organized by the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

The money will be used to provide medicine and vaccines as well as improve the level of nutrition provided to small children, pregnant women and the socially disadvantaged. An additional 15.92 million won (US$14,288) will be sent to UNICEF to help manage the aid programs in North Korea.

UPDATE 7 (2013-8-2): From the United Nations:

Exceptionally heavy seasonal rain in mid-July resulted in flooding in many parts of DPRK Korea. Particularly severely affected are the provinces of North and South Pyongan. Many places had over twice the average rainfall for July in three days. There are a reported 33 deaths with 18 people still missing.

The Government has reported that there has been extensive damage to buildings and infrastructure with a current total of 48,688 people made homeless across the country, mostly in the two provinces of North and South Pyonang. Farmland was inundated with 11,567 hectares affected with around 1,125 hectares of farmland washed away or otherwise destroyed.

UN agencies carried out assessment missions on 24 July to two counties in North Pyongang – Pakchon and Taechon and in those two areas confirmed the scale of the flood damage. Further assessment missions will take place this week.

Damage to water systems is widespread and there is already an increased incidence of diarrhoea in some areas. Anju city, which was 80% flooded will only have its pumping stations fully operational again in about two weeks. 30 other communities have had their drinking water systems damaged.

Damage to agricultural land is extensive though estimates of crop damage vary and further assessment missions in the next week should give a more accurate number once the flood waters have fully receded. Apart from the farmland that was physically swept away or buried, damage to the standing crops may not be as extensive as first reports suggested as many fields were flooded by heavy rain rather than by flash flooding and, unless there is further heavy rain, seem likely to largely recover.

Transport infrastructure has suffered with at least 20 bridges and 11km of embankments and 143 areas where roads have been eroded, washed away or blocked by landslides. Government surveys show that 27 schools were completely destroyed in four provinces, with a further 10 being badly damaged. Many others have suffered more minor damage, though currently it is the summer break, so at present schooling is not being disrupted. Medical facilities such as hospitals, clinics and nursing homes also were affected with 3 being destroyed and 14 badly damaged.

UPDATE 6 (2013-8-4): The North Koreans have cut short military exercises to focus on flood relief. According to the AFP:

The communist state has staged summer military drills that partially coincided with the annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise conducted by its rival South Korea and the United States, that usually takes place in August.

“But this year’s summer drill in the North will be scaled back considerably because it needs to focus on repairing floods damages,” the source was quoted as saying.

Floods caused by heavy rains that pummelled the North since early July have destroyed some 6,000 houses, displaced more than 23,000 people and washed away a large swathes of farmlands, the North’s state media said late last month.

The death toll has reached 33 across the nation and some 13,300 hectares of farmlands have been damaged, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said last week, warning of “longer-term impact” on the country’s food security.

Decades of deforestation and decrepit infrastructure have left the impoverished North vulnerable to floods, which led to some 170 deaths last summer.

UPDATE 5 (2013-8-2): The international Red Cross has said it will provide North Korea with an emergency fund of US$320,000 to help flood victims. According to Yonhap:

The international Red Cross has said it will provide North Korea with an emergency fund of US$320,000 to help flood victims in the communist country.

In a report posted on its website Thursday, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said it has allocated 299,744 Swiss franc from its disaster relief emergency fund “to help the DPRK Red Cross Society in delivering immediate assistance to 5,000 families or 20,000 beneficiaries.”

DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.

Torrential rains since early July have caused extensive flooding and landslides across the impoverished communist country, killing 33 people and injuring 2 others with 18 still missing, according to the IFRC data. An estimated 4,000 families have lost their homes and 50,000 have been displaced.

In response, the agency plans to spend $120,000 to set up a shelter for 5,000 families in the most affected areas of North and South Pyongan and North Hwanghae Provinces, another $100,000 for utensils, and $40,700 for water, sanitation and hygiene works.

“The operation targets to support affected families with essential items … It also supports the operational cost of the two water treatment units and hygiene promotion activities,” the IFRC said in the report.

The relief operation will continue over the next three months until the end of October, it added.

In the wake of the tragedy in the North, the IFRC dispatched an eight-member group of experts to the affected areas and has conducted damage assessment and led relief work.

The fund is a source of un-earmarked money created by the Federation in 1985 to ensure that immediate financial support is available for its emergency response, according to the agency’s website.

UPDATE 4 (2013-7-31): ROK NGOs start shipping humanitarian aid to DPRK. According to Yonhap:

South Korean non-governmental organizations (NGOs) started shipping out humanitarian aid to North Korea on Wednesday to help alleviate the plight of children and sick people in the impoverished country.

The move comes after Seoul’s unification ministry approved the shipment of goods earlier in the week as a sign that South Korea is open to offering urgent humanitarian assistance to the North in spite of sanctions on the North for its nuclear device detonation in February.

The Korea Association of People Sharing Love, one of five NGOs to gain permission to ship goods, said it has ordered the shipment of bread in China for delivery to child-care centers and orphanages in Sinuiju, a North Korean border city with China.

It said other shipments of food will be made in the coming weeks. The organization was allowed to send US$46,000 worth of bread, baby formulas and nutritional supplements.

Medical Aid for Children, another charity group, said it has held a ceremony in Incheon, west of Seoul, to mark the start of its deliveries of antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs.

The group said medical supplies worth 223 million won ($199,700) will be made to a children’s hospital in the North.

Other groups like Green Tree Korea, Okedongmu Children and Stop Hunger said the first of their aid shipments will reach the North next month.

These organization plan to send more than 1.2 billion won worth of warm clothing, blankets, flour, powdered milk to the North in the coming weeks.

The shipments mark the first time in four months that Seoul has approved humanitarian aid to the communist country. The last shipment included tuberculosis medicine sent by the Eugene Bell foundation.

Seoul has imposed a blanket ban on shipments of goods after accusing the North of sinking one of its naval vessels near the South-North sea demarcation line in March 2010.

UPDATE 3 (2013-7-28): South Korea offers flood assistance. According to the New York Times:

South Korea announced $7.3 million worth of humanitarian aid for North Korea on Sunday, a conciliatory gesture that coincided with a call by the South for “one last round” of talks on restarting a jointly operated industrial complex.

The majority of the aid — $6 million — will be provided by the South Korean government and shipped through Unicef, the United Nations children’s agency, which provides vaccines, medicine and nutritional supplements for malnourished children and pregnant women in the impoverished North. Five private humanitarian aid groups from South Korea will provide the remainder; they will also send medicine and food for young children.

The South Korean minister in charge of policy toward the North, Ryoo Kihl-jae, said the aid shipments were not linked to political issues. But the announcement was contained in a statement in which Mr. Ryoo also called for a final round of talks with the North to settle disputes over the Kaesong industrial complex, which has been closed since early April.

There was no immediate response from the North Korean government.

UPDATE 2 (2013-7-25): Christian Friends of Korea (CFK) to provide flood relief. According to Yonhap:

Christian Friends of Korea (CFK), which is already engaged in providing humanitarian assistance to people living in the Hwanghae region, will offer clean drinking water, food and medicine to flood victims, Radio Free Asia reported.

The United Nations said that as of Monday, 24 people have been killed because of flooding while many others have been injured. It said a fact-finding mission has been sent to the isolationist country to assess the full extent of the damage so assistance can be provided.

UPDATE 1 (2013-7-23): According to KCNA (2013-7-23):

Flood Damage Grows in DPRK

Pyongyang, July 23 (KCNA) — Flood damage by consecutive downpour and heavy rainfalls is growing in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

According to a survey made between 18:00 July 20 and 18:00 July 22, the flooding left eight people dead throughout the country.

More than 4,500 houses were destroyed or submerged, leaving 17,700 people homeless.

At least 1,000 houses were damaged totally or partially in North Phyongan Province, with 2,300 houses submerged in Unsan County alone.

6,550 hectares of cropland were damaged in North and South Phyongan provinces.

Meanwhile, the torrential rain has brought damage to some 30 school and 15 hospital buildings throughout the country as of July 23, after the start of the rainy season.

ORIGINAL POST (2013-7-23): According to the Daily NK:

The city of Anju in South Pyongan Province, which suffered substantive flood damage in the summer of 2012, has again been hit hard by the rainy season. Francis Markus of the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) released the news via Twitter on the 22nd, asserting that 80% of the city is now under water.

Markus tweeted, “10,000+ ppl displaced, need shelter & clean water in Anju city, w. #DPRK as river bursts banks #RedCross deploys water units,” later adding, “80% of Anju City, #DPRK reported under 2 m of water. #RedCross sending tarps, jerry cans, water purif tabs, hygiene kits etc 4 survivors.”

The city, which lies northwest of Pyongsung, has a population of more than 200,000.

Meanwhile, according to a North Korean meteorological statistics released by Chosun Central News Agency (KCNA) yesterday, close to double the average amount of July rainfall has fallen during the 20 days since the start of the rainy season.

“On July 20, the highest precipitation was recorded in Tongsin, Songwon, Ryongrim and Thaechon counties,” the article noted, going on, “From 21:00 July 19th to 15:00 July 21st, 413mm rainfall was recorded in Tongsin County, 383mm in Songwon County, 380mm in Thaechon County, 322mm in Huichon City, 312mm in Hyangsan County, 304mm in Tongchang County and over 200mm in Kusong City, Sonchon and Nyongbyon counties and Tokchon City.”

On the 19th, IFRC announced that it has dispatched an on-site inspection team to assess conditions on the ground in North Korea. An international relief effort in August 2012 saw the Red Cross deliver water and other essential goods to the people of the flood-damaged city.

Read the full story here:
Pyongan Suffering in Heavy Rains
Daily NK
Kim Tae Hong


North Korea reaches the final stage for Sepho Tableland, a large-scale stockbreeding base

August 16th, 2013

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

North Korea began to develop the wasteland in Gangwon Province from the late 2012 into a large-scale livestock-breeding base and is reported to be at the final stage of construction.

North Korean Workers’ Party newspaper Rodong Sinmun reported on August 2, “Soldier-builders and shock brigaders are busy building the Sepho tableland in time to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the establishment of the Republic.”

North Korea will celebrate the 65th anniversary of birth of its regime on September 9, and there are speculations that the flat wastelands of Sepho, Pyonggang and Ichon districts will be transformed into pastures in time for the anniversary.

Meanwhile, young people in the North, including soldiers and personnel in various agencies drafted the ‘shock brigade’ organizations, as they were brought into the construction project to meet the deadline of completion by early next month.

So far, about 20,000 ㏊ of natural grassland is being developed into artificial grassland over a period of six months and is about 96 percent complete, reported the Rodong Sinmun.

Furthermore, to prepare for the seasonal torrential rain in the region, approximately 230 ㎞of drainage system was constructed, and 50,000 tonnes of fertilizer made out of manure and compost was produced, to prepare for the autumn sowing.

Rodong Sinmun, reported on July 3, “As of the end of June, more than 10,000 jongbo (roughly about 9,917 ha) of natural land were cleaned up,” which reveals that in just over a month, land converted to pastureland had doubled in size.

At the North Korean Workers’ Party Central Committee Politburo meeting in February,a decision was reached that “the battle to open the Sepho Tableland and development of grassland must be completed by this year, in time to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Armistice Agreement and 65th anniversary of establishment of the North Korean government.”

Kim Jong Un has directly ordered the development of Sepho Tableland to improve the lives of the North Korean people. Kim Jong Un has entered his second year in power and it is critical that the projects that he embarked on produce good results.

As an accomplishment of his first year, the construction of Huichon Power Station, Pyongyang Folk Park and Changjon Street in Pyongyang could be named, although these projects were originally launched by his father, Kim Jong Il.

Kim Yong Nam, the 85-year-old chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly has visited the construction site of Sepho Tableland and encouraged workers on the site. DPRK Premier Pak Pong Ju and the KPA vice-marshal Choe Ryong Hae are also reported to have visited the site, signifying the great importance of Sepho for the North Korean regime.


DPRK – China trade falls in Q2 2013

August 12th, 2013

According to Yonhap:

North Korea’s trade with China fell 6 percent on-year in the first six months of this year, apparently hit by Beijing’s tougher stance against Pyongyang’s nuclear program, a senior Seoul diplomat said Monday.

The North’s trade with China stood at US$2.95 billion in the January-June period, compared with $3.14 billion a year earlier, said the diplomat at the South Korean Embassy in Beijing.

Exports to China rose 6 percent to $1.36 billion, while imports declined 14 percent to $1.59 billion, the diplomat said on the condition of anonymity, citing official data.

“The drop in overall North Korea-China trade in the first six months of this year appears to be affected by tighter inspections by Chinese customs authorities,” the diplomat said.

North Korea’s imports of Chinese crude oil slipped 15 percent from a year ago to 250,000 tons during the six-month period, according to the data.

In particular, the North’s imports of food from China plunged 65 percent to 120,000 tons for the January-June period, the data showed.

Coal shipments from North Korea to China rose 18 percent to 8.33 million tons for the six-month period, despite falling coal prices, according to the data. Coal accounted for 54.8 percent of the North’s total exports to China during the period.

“With the Chinese economy expected to slow down in the second half of this year, China’s demand for North Korean coal is likely to decline,” the diplomat said.

China has become increasingly frustrated with North Korea, particularly after the North’s third nuclear test in February. Beijing voted in favor of sanctions by the U.N. Security Council to punish Pyongyang for conducting the nuclear test.

In May, the Bank of China closed accounts with North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank, which was accused by the U.S. of helping finance the North’s nuclear weapons program.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s trade with China drops 6 pct in H1: diplomat


Cuba – DPRK military shipment intercepted in Panama (UPDATED)

August 11th, 2013

UPDATE 39 (2015-12-14): Chinpo Shipping found guilty of transferring money for North Korea. According to the Washington Post:

Singapore sent a stern warning Monday to companies doing business for North Korea, with a court handing down guilty verdicts to a local shipping agent accused of transferring money to help Pyongyang buy weapons.

The case against Chinpo Shipping — which had transferred millions of dollars for North Korea — revealed a trove of information about how the country has been using intermediaries to send money through the international banking system without detection.

“This is a significant case in terms of prosecuting North Korean middlemen,” said Andrea Berger, a nonproliferation expert at the Royal United Services Institute in London, noting that this was the first case under a Singaporean regulation that bars companies from helping North Korea with its nuclear and missile programs.

“Now there is a possibility of using this case as a precedent for taking action against other middlemen in Singapore, and also potentially abroad, that provide assistance for North Korea’s weapons sales overseas or North Korea’s proliferation activities generally,” she said.

The United States has been trying to cut off Pyongyang’s access to the international banking system as a way to stop it from financing its nuclear weapons program, and this is exactly the kind of action it wants other countries to be taking against North Korean entities.

The case revolved around Chinpo, a small, family-run Singaporean company that had been working with North Korean shipping and trading entities since 1972.

Over the years, the Tan family, the owner, appears to have developed a cozy relationship with North Korea, even allowing the North Korean Embassy to operate out of its modest office in Singapore. The Washington Post recently visited that office, in a shabby tower, and found that both Chinpo and the North Koreans had gone.

Chinpo had particularly close dealings with Ocean Maritime Management, a North Korean shipping company that was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in July 2014 over a case that sounds like something out of a John le Carré novel: In 2013, an OMM ship was caught going through the Panama Canal. On board, underneath 10,000 tons of sugar, were two disassembled MiG aircraft and 15 MiG engines, surface-to-air missile components, anti-tank rockets and other weapons.

“This constituted the largest amount of arms and related materiel interdicted to or from [North Korea] since the adoption of Resolution 1718,” Judge Jasvender Kaur said in her summation of the case against Chinpo, referring to the U.N. sanctions against North Korea after its first nuclear test in 2006.

t transpired that Chinpo had sent $72,016.76 to a shipping agent operating at the Panama Canal to ensure the passage of the ship, the Chong Chon Gang, on its route from Cuba to North Korea. That was just one of 605 transactions totaling $40 million that Chinpo carried out for North Korea between 2009 and 2013, when the Chong Chon Gang was caught.

“Chinpo believed that OMM was unable to get a bank account and make remittances because OMM was a [North Korean] entity, and so Chinpo readily agreed to make transfers for them,” the prosecutors said in their opening statement submitted to the court.

Singaporean prosecutors charged Chinpo with breaching U.N. sanctions by transferring money connected with North Korea’s nuclear-related program. The U.N. sanctions, designed to make Pyongyang abandon its nuclear ambitions, prohibit trade in large conventional weapons such as combat aircraft, the proceeds of which are thought to be channeled into the nuclear program. Prosecutors also brought a technical charge of remitting money without a license.

In finding Chinpo — run by 83-year-old Tan Cheng Hoe and his two daughters — guilty, Kaur described how they had transferred money with no scrutiny through the company’s bank accounts and taken steps to obscure the source of the funds.

“Since the second half of 2010, Chinpo stopped indicating the name of vessels in the outgoing remittance forms,” the judge wrote in her summation. “According to the statement of Tan Cheng Hoe, more questions were asked by the bank in the U.S. when the vessel name was included.”

Furthermore, Chinpo essentially let OMM use its bank accounts for holding and transferring money, even as the number of ships for which Chinpo was providing services fell to four in 2013. “The reason behind the odd arrangement was obviously to assist [North Korean] entities as they did not have access to the banking system due to U.N. and U.S. sanctions,” the judge wrote.

UPDATE 38 (2015-6-15): Panama court sentences N.Korean sailors. According to the AFP:

A court in Panama jailed two North Koreans for 12 years for trying to smuggle Cuban weapons through the Panama Canal in an incident which raised international suspicions, their attorney said Sunday.

Their convictions came as something of a surprise since a lower court had let the men off after their North Korean cargo ship was found to be carrying Cuban weapons including surface-to-air missile systems and launchers when it was stopped in the Panama Canal in July 2013.

“Panama’s Second Circuit Court first revoked that ruling and then sentenced the ship’s captain and co-pilot to 12 years in prison,” their attorney Julio Berrios told AFP Sunday.

Captain Ri Yong-Il and first mate Hong Yong-Hyon were convicted of arms trafficking over the undeclared cache, including two Soviet-era MiG-21 aircraft, air defense systems, missiles and command and control vehicles.

According to NK News:


Reports at the time indicated the crewmen had already left Panama, bound for Cuba.

According to the Equasis maritime database, the vessel changed name and management companies in October last year. The ship is now called the Tung Hong San and is owned and operated by the Pyongyang based Tung Hong San shipping.

Renaming ships and assigning them to new companies is widely considered to be a way of evading sanctions.

UPDATE 37 (2014-8-15): Japan has also imposed sanctions on Ocean Maritime Management. According to Reuters:

Japan on Friday froze the assets of the operator of a North Korean ship seized for smuggling arms, the Foreign Ministry said, just as Tokyo is engaged in talks with Pyongyang to return Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korean agents decades ago.

The sanction against Ocean Maritime Management, which operated the ship detained near the Panama Canal a year ago carrying Soviet-era arms, follows similar steps by the United States and U.N. blacklisting of the North Korean firm in July.

UPDATE 36 (2014-7-30): The United States imposed sanctions on two North Korean shipping firms involved in the Chongchongang incident. According to Yonhap:

The Department of the Treasury announced the sanctions, saying Chongchongang Shipping Co. is the operator of the once-seized freighter Chong Chon Gang and Ocean Maritime Management Co. played a key role in having the ship’s crew lie about the cargo and providing false documents to Panamanian authorities.

“North Korea uses companies like Chongchongang Shipping and Ocean Maritime Management to engage in arms trading in violation of U.S and international sanctions,” Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen said in a statement.

“The Chong Chon Gang episode, in which the DPRK (North Korea) tried to hide an arms shipment under tons of sugar, is a perfect example of North Korea’s deceptive activity, and precisely the sort of conduct that we are committed to disrupting,” he said.

Under the new sanctions, any property or interests in property of the designated entities that are within U.S. jurisdiction must be frozen, the department said. In addition, transactions by U.S. persons or within the United States involving the designated entities or identified vessels are generally prohibited, it said.

UPDATE 35 (2014-7-28): U.N. blacklists operator of North Korean ship seized in Panama. According to Reuters:

The North Korea (DPRK) sanctions committee designated Ocean Maritime Management, which operated the Chong Chon Gang, the ship detained a year ago carrying arms, including two MiG-21 jet fighters, under thousands of tonnes of sugar.

The company is now subject to an international asset freeze and travel ban. North Korea is under an array of United Nations and U.S. and other countries’ sanctions for nuclear and ballistic missile tests since 2006 in defiance of global demands to stop.

“Ocean Maritime Management Company, Ltd (OMM), played a key role in arranging the shipment of the concealed cargo of arms and related materiel,” the committee said in an implementation assistance notice.

“The concealment of the aforementioned items demonstrates intent to evade U.N. sanctions, and is consistent with previous attempts by the DPRK to transfer arms and related materiel through similar tactics in contravention of Security Council prohibitions,” the committee said.

UPDATE 34 (2014-7-16): Detained Crew to Seek Compensation. According to the Daily NK:

The captain and crew of a North Korean vessel that was seized and impounded by the government of Panama are to file suit for compensation, Voice of America reported today.

Attorney Julio Berrios, acting for the North Korean side, is reported as saying that the Panamanian government must “take a responsibility for the year-long period of detention during which crew members Captain Lee Young Il, Chief Mate Hong Yong Hyun and Political Officer Kim Young Geol were deprived of their freedom as well as pay.”

All members of the crew were found not guilty of trafficking in undeclared weapons and left Panama on July 12th, five months after thirty-two other crewmembers were released and returned to North Korea.

“Although I haven’t received payroll data from the vessel operator as yet, in the case of the captain we will demand at least $18,000 USD of compensation, as his monthly salary was $1,500 USD,” Berrios alleged.

He also explained that the North Korean government is hoping to receive compensation for damages done to the vessel’s cargo. The total price for ten thousand tons of sugar is more than $5m USD, he asserted.

However, he emphasized, “The North Korean side wants a diplomatic solution rather than a legal solution.”

UPDATE 33 (2014-7-13): DPRK ship crew members leave Panama. According to Yonhap:

Three crew members of a North Korean ship who were recently acquitted of charges of smuggling weapons through the Panama Canal have been released, a U.S. report said Sunday.

Voice of America (VOA) said the captain and two crew members aboard the Chong Chon Gang were released by the authorities in Panama on Friday and left for Cuba the following day. The three are scheduled to stop over in Moscow and Beijing before arriving in Pyongyang.

UPDATE 32 (2014-6-27): The Associated Press reports that the boat captain has been freed:

A Panamanian judge absolved the captain and two other officers of charges stemming from the seizure of a North Korean ship last July for carrying undeclared military equipment from Cuba, a court statement said Friday.

The court in Colon ruled that the weapons and other equipment should be turned over to Panamanian authorities.

The court ordered the three crewmen of the Chong Chon Gang freed, saying the issue of whether the ship violated a U.N. arms embargo against North Korea was not a matter for Panama to decide.

The ship’s other 32 sailors were allowed to sail the vessel back to North Korea in February after the owner paid a $700,000 fine.

UPDATE 31 (2014-6-10): Singapore prosecutor files charges against comapny and individual involved in setting up Chongchongang shipment. According to the BBC:

Singapore has filed criminal charges against a shipping company accused of helping to smuggle missiles and fighter jets from Cuba to North Korea.

The Chinpo Shipping Company has been charged with transferring assets in breach of UN sanctions on North Korea.

The huge shipment of arms was seized in Panama last year hidden under a cargo of sugar.

In March, the UN named Chinpo Shipping as one of two companies involved in trying to ship arms to North Korea.

The charge sheets said Chinpo Shipping had transferred $72,000 (£43,000) to a Panama shipping company in March when it had reason to believe that the money might be used to contribute to North Korea’s weapons programmes.

Chinpo executive Tan Hui Tin, 50, who is the daughter of Chinpo’s chairman, was charged with withholding potential electronic evidence.

Chinpo Shipping has not yet commented on the charges.

Singapore’s foreign ministry said in a statement: “Singapore takes a serious view of our international obligations to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, their means of delivery and related materials.”

Under United Nations sanctions, North Korea is banned from weapons exports and the import of all but small arms.

Here is coverage in Bernama.

Here is coverage in Yonhap.

UPDATE 30 (2014-6-6): Panamanian prosecutors seek eight-year prison term for boat captain/crew. According to Yonhap:

Panamanian prosecutors have demanded an eight-year prison term for three crew members of a North Korean ship accused of shipping Cuban weapons, a U.S. radio report said Friday.

The request was made during a trial on Wednesday, the Washington-based Voice of America (VOA) said, citing prosecutor Roberto Moreno of the Panamanian Attorney General’s Office.

The North Korean freighter, the Chong Chon Gang, was seized by the Panamanian authorities in July 2013 while carrying Soviet-era MiG-21 fighter aircraft, surface-to-air missiles and other arms-related material hidden under sacks of sugar.

Panama released the other 32 crew members without charge after North Korea paid US$690,000 in fines in February but indicted the three, including the captain, on charges of illegal arms deals.

The VOA added that a sitting judge is expected to deliver a ruling within a month.

UPDATE 29 (2014-5-15): According to Yonhap, the remaining crew will go on trial in June 2014. According to the article:

Three members of a North Korean ship seized by Panama last year for carrying Cuban weapons are scheduled to appear for a trial in Panama next month, a U.S. radio report said on May 13.

The court set the date for June 4 for the captain and two crew members of the Chong Chon Gang, the Washington-based Voice of America said, citing Prosecutor Roberto Moreno of the Panamanian Attorney General’s Office.

Moreno said a judge can issue a ruling within 30 days, though it may take months if the North Koreans appeal the verdict.

The trial comes 11 months after the Panamanian authorities seized the North Korean ship carrying Soviet-era MiG-21 fighter aircraft, surface-to-air missile and other arms-related material hidden under sacks of sugar.

Panama released the other 32 crew members of the Chong Chon Gang without charge after North Korea paid US$690,000 in fines in February.

UPDATE 28 (2014-3-19): The Chongchongang is included in the third UN Panel of Experts report on the DPRK.

UPDATE 27 (2014-2-15): Chongchongang leaves Panama, headed back to Cuba. According to Business Insider:

A North Korean ship detained near the Panama Canal for smuggling Cuban weapons set sail back for the Caribbean island on Saturday with most of its crew on board after it paid a fine, the government said.

More in Reuters:

Crew members were informed they were free to go on Tuesday, Panama’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

The three highest-ranking people on the ship, including the captain, will remain detained in Panama, where they are being charged with weapons trafficking.

Panamanian prosecutors concluded the three had a “clear involvement” in smuggling the arms, including the two MiG-21 aircraft, 15 MiG engines and nine anti-aircraft missiles.

UPDATE 26 (2014-2-13): Media reports indicate that UN investigators have stated that the ship was violating sanctions. According to the Miami Herald:

A shipment of Cuban weapons to North Korea last summer violated a U.N. arms embargo on the Asian nation and showed a “comprehensive planned strategy to conceal” the cargo, a team of U.N. sanctions investigators have reportedly concluded.

Japan’s Kyodo News International news agency reported that the secret report submitted by the investigators to the U.N. Security Council states that the Cuban shipment constituted “sanctions violations.”

“The employment of so many role-players in support of the trip suggests a network of entities centrally managed working together to deflect scrutiny in order to evade sanctions by minimizing the DPRK’s visibility in transactions,” the U.N. investigators wrote.

UPDATE 25 (2014-2-8): The DPRK has paid the fine and most sailors freed. According to Reuters:

A North Korean ship detained near the Panama Canal for holding Cuban weapons is free to go after the ship’s representatives on Saturday paid a $693,333 fine to the Panama Canal Authority, the authority said in a statement.

The return of the Chong Chon Gang to North Korea would end part of a bizarre case involving the three countries that provoked international controversy.

The ship was seized in July for smuggling Soviet-era arms, including two MiG-21 aircraft, under 10,000 tons of sugar.

Since then, the ship has been moored at the Manzanillo International Terminal on Panama’s Atlantic side while the canal authority waited for the payment of at least two-thirds of the $1 million fine it imposed for trying to traffic illegal weapons through the waterway.

Panamanian prosecutors last week dropped charges against 32 of the 35 crew members and they were transferred into the custody of immigration officials.

The three highest-ranking crew members, including the captain, are being charged with weapons trafficking, prosecutors said.

They concluded the three had a “clear involvement” in smuggling the Soviet-era arms, including the two MiG-21 aircraft, 15 MiG engines and nine anti-aircraft missiles.

The prosecutors’ decision was based on interviews with the crew and translations of key documents found in the ship.

Panama’s Foreign Minister Francisco Alvarez de Soto did not immediately return calls or messages Saturday and it was not clear when the ship or the crew would leave Panama.

The U.N. Security Council has yet to decide on penalties against Cuba because of a seven-year-old ban against arms transfers to North Korea due to the country’s nuclear weapons program.

A preliminary report, presented by a panel of experts to the Sanctions Committee at the U.N. Security Council and given to Panamanian authorities last August, concluded the shipment “without doubt” was a violation of U.N. sanctions.

Panamanian officials have said the arms will likely be sold or given away and the sugar sold to companies interested in turning it into ethanol.

The North Korean crew sabotaged the ship’s electrical system and bilge pumps after Panamanian investigators stopped the ship near the Atlantic entrance to the Panama Canal on suspicion it was carrying drugs after leaving Cuba.

After the arms were discovered hidden beneath the sugar, Cuba acknowledged it was sending 240 tons of “obsolete” Soviet-era weapons to be repaired in North Korea and returned to Cuba. Cuban officials told Panama the cargo was a donation of sugar for the people of North Korea.

Here is coverage in Xinhua.

UPDATE 24 (2013-12-3): The DPRK has agreed to pay fine of $670,000 for boat’s return.  According to Infosurhoy:

North Korea has agreed to pay a reduced fine to ensure the return of a ship stopped near the Panama Canal that had military weapons from Cuba on board.

The settlement should end a protracted dispute over the Chong Chon Gang, the freighter intercepted by Panamanian customs officers on July 10 as it approached the canal.

Authorities uncovered 25 containers of military hardware, including two MiG-21 fighter jets, air defense systems, missiles and command and control vehicles, concealed under 200,000 sacks of sugar.

Panama, which is holding the North Korean ship’s 35-strong crew at a former U.S. naval base, previously said North Korea must pay a US$1 million penalty for the boat’s release.

But Julio Berríos, a lawyer for the crew, said a reduced fine of $670,000 had been agreed between local officials and a North Korean delegation that traveled to Panama to resolve the issue.

UPDATE 23 (2013-11-27): Panama appears to have reversed its decision and is keeping most of the crew detained.  According to ABC News:

A Panamanian prosecutor who reported the release of all but three of 35 crewmen of a North Korean ship seized for carrying Cuban weapons reversed his story Wednesday afternoon, saying all were still being held.

Organized crime prosecutor Nahaniel Murgas first said only the ship’s captain, first mate and a Korean official who watched the crew would continue to be detained and face charges of arms trafficking. He appeared later in the afternoon at the base where the crew members were being held and changed his version, saying only the ship was legally free to go. He left without further comment.

UPDATE 22 (2013-10-21): Panama claims it will release most of the crew. According to the New York Times:

The authorities in Panama said Monday that they would release 33 of the 35 North Korean crew members of a rusting freighter impounded more than three months ago for carrying a secret stash of Soviet-era Cuban military gear hidden under bags of brown sugar.

Neither the captain, who tried to slit his throat when the Panamanian marine police boarded the vessel, nor the captain’s aide is free to go, said a top official at Panama’s Foreign Ministry. The official, who spoke by telephone on the condition of anonymity because of ministry policy, said the two North Koreans had not cooperated and may still face criminal charges.

The Foreign Ministry official said that the other crew members had cooperated, and that all of them had asserted that they had no idea the vessel was carrying military cargo. Two North Korean diplomats have been granted visas, the official said, to travel to Panama and to complete arrangements for those crew members to leave the country.

UPDATE 21 (2013-10-11): The Christian Science Monitor offers some additional details on the shipment:

Two Cuban MiG-21 jet fighters found aboard a seized North Korean cargo ship three months ago were in good repair, had been recently flown and were accompanied by “brand-new” jet engines, Panamanian officials say.

“They had jet fuel still inside their tanks,” Foreign Minister Fernando Nunez Fabrega told McClatchy in an interview earlier this month. “They were not obsolete and in need of repair.”

One of the MiG-21s contained manuals and maintenance records that indicated it was flying just a few months earlier, said prosecutor Javier Caraballo, who’s handling an arms trafficking case against the 35 North Korean crew members. Mr. Caraballo declined a reporter’s request to see the records.

In publicly acknowledging the shipment after it was discovered, Cuban officials insisted that the ship was carrying only old aircraft and other parts that were being sent to North Korea for repair when Panamanian authorities, acting on a tip that it was carrying drugs, intercepted it.

Panamanian officials now think that the shipment was part of what Mr. Nunez Fabrega called “a major deal” between the two countries, though they aren’t certain of its scope.

Officials searching the vessel found the MiG aircraft in sealed containers hidden under 100-pound bags of sugar – 10,000 tons worth – in the ship’s hold. They also uncovered 15 jet engines and other weaponry.

“These are brand-new engines,” Nunez Fabrega said. He said Cuban officials in their public statement also “generalized over very specific items that could have gotten them in trouble,” such as a guidance system for anti-aircraft missile defense.

The UN monitoring team still seeks answers from Cuba about the arms shipment, and the team will provide a UN sanctions committee with a detailed report once it has those answers.

A senior aide to the foreign minister, Tomas A. Cabal, said the deal had been arranged at a meeting June 29 in Havana among Cuban leader Raul Castro, Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces Gen. Leopoldo Cintra Frias, and Kim Kyok Sik, who was then the chief of the Korean People’s Army general staff. Mr. Kim was dismissed from his post in August, a month after the ship was seized.

Mr. Cabal said “friends overseas” had told Panama that the two MiG-21s were part of a larger deal between Cuba and North Korea for 12 jet fighters. That assertion couldn’t be independently confirmed.

Meanwhile, the 35 crew members from the Chong Chon Gang are biding their time at a former US military base near the Panama Canal. It’s not exactly hard time, officials say. In fact, it’s better than living aboard the vessel, which reeked of poor hygiene when it was seized.

Caraballo said the crew members, while under armed guard, were enjoying conditions that were “10 times better than where they were.”

“They are quite comfortable,” Caraballo said. “They’ve been given clean clothing, food, cigarettes to smoke. . . . They have a television. They can play soccer each afternoon.”

They live in air-conditioned quarters, a physician attends to them, and a telephone is available for them to communicate with the North Korean Embassy in Havana, he said. Panama doesn’t have diplomatic relations with North Korea.

While the ship’s crew and captain have offered statements through Korean translators brought in from Mexico, they’ve refused to sign the depositions, Caraballo said.

It hasn’t been decided what will happen to the weaponry that was aboard the ship.

Panama is treading lightly in the case, wary of angering Cuba, which Nunez Fabrega said was “one of the biggest customers of the free zone” in Colon, where it buys abundant goods as a consequence of the five-decade-old US embargo on the island. A ship travels weekly from Colon to Havana to supply Cuba’s tourist hotels.

Caraballo, a drug prosecutor who was summoned to handle the seized ship because initial reports said it was carrying narcotics, said the captain had affirmed that he knew containers were in the hold but “didn’t know what was in the containers.”

The North Koreans have been charged with arms trafficking, which could carry up to a 12-year term, Caraballo said.

But Nunez Fabrega said Panama was eager for the crew and ship to be on their way once North Korea settles a fine of up to $1 million imposed by the Panama Canal Authority for endangering the waterway by transporting undeclared weaponry.

“We have no interest in keeping that boat here,” Nunez Fabrega said, noting that it’s the largest freighter in North Korea’s merchant fleet.

As for the seized sugar, it’s being kept in silos in Penonome in central Panama’s Cocle province, Caraballo said. What will happen to it is unclear. “This sugar may last there another 10 months without it being damaged,” he said.

UPDATE 20 (2013-9-26): Panama fines DPRK ship. According to the AFP:

The Panama Canal Authority announced Thursday that it slapped a $1 million fine on a North Korean cargo ship caught with an undeclared shipment of Cuban weapons in July.

The canal administrator, Jorge Quijano, said the ship was sanctioned because “it put our canal and our people at risk to a certain point.”

The fine was delivered to the freighter’s captain and owners, he said, adding that the boat is barred from unmooring until they pay at least two-thirds of the penalty, or around $650,000.

He said the penalty could change depending on the response of the ship’s owners, but they have not replied.

The Panamanian government said last month that a United Nations report found that the shipment was a violation of UN sanctions against arms transfers to North Korea’s communist regime.

The Wall Street Journal has more here.

UPDATE 19 (2013-9-25): Panamanian President says ship violates UNSC resolutions. According to Yonhap:

Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli told the United Nations on Wednesday that the “undeclared war material” onboard a North Korea-bound ship his country seized in July was a clear violation of past Security Council sanctions.

“An enormous amount of war material that, by definition and destination clearly violates Security Council Committee mandates, were discovered hidden under 200 tons of raw sugar,” he told the annual gathering of world leaders in New York and the 68th General Assembly.

The president said that authorities stopped the Chong Chon Gang, which was coming from Cuba, before it entered the Panama Canal on reports that the ship was carrying drugs.

North Korea and Cuba have said that the ship was carrying “aging” or “obsolete” weapons to be overhauled and sent back to Cuba.

The U.N. committee that oversees the North Korean sanctions is awaiting a final report about an August trip to Panama where experts on a panel were sent to investigate the cargo.

UPDATE 18 (2013-8-30): Cuban and DPRK military staff purged. Possibly related to botched operation.

Earlier this week, the head of the Cuban Air Force, General Pedro Mendiondo Gomez, died in a mysterious car wreck.

North Korea’s Army Chief, General Kim Kyok-sik, was mysteriously purged and disappeared.

UPDATE 17 (2013-8-27): The DPRK is sending a delegation to Panama. According to AFP:

A North Korean delegation is expected to visit Panama to see 35 sailors who were detained there after their ship was impounded and Cuban arms were detected aboard.

“We issued them visas so they could enter and they will receive” them tomorrow, Wednesday, Panamanian Foreign Minister Fernando Nunez said on Tuesday.

The sailors have been held on arms trafficking charges that carry maximum sentences of up to 12 years in prison.

The ship, the Chong Chon Gang, was boarded and searched July 10 on suspicion it was smuggling drugs through the Panama Canal.

Authorities instead uncovered 25 containers filled with military hardware, including two stripped down Soviet era MiG-21s, air defense systems, missiles and command and control vehicles, buried under tons of sugar.

Havana said they were obsolete Cuban arms being shipped to North Korea for refurbishment under a legitimate contract.

The sailors are being held at Fort Sherman, a former US military base.

Nunez said their fate depended on Panama’s legal process. The Latin American country has no diplomatic relations with North Korea.

A team of UN experts traveled to Panama to inspect the weapons and determine whether the shipment violated a ban against arms transfers to North Korea.

UPDATE 16 (2013-8-27): The latest from Hugh Griffiths and Roope Siiritola at 38 North, “Full Disclosure: Contents of North Korean Smuggling Ship Revealed.”

UPDATE 15 (2013-8-16): Panama states its intention to sanction DPRK vessel. According to the Straits Times:

The Panama Canal authority said on Thursday it will impose a fine of as much as US$1 million (S$1.27 million) on the North Korean freighter caught with an undeclared shipment of Cuban weapons.

“It is a flagrant violation of safe passage through the Panama Canal and we have little tolerance for this kind of activity,” canal administrator Jorge Quijano said.

“It is going to be sanctioned,” he said, adding that the authorities were still mulling the size of the fine.

“It’s obvious that there were containers that had not been declared, not to mention what was inside them.” The ship, the Chong Chon Gang, was boarded and searched July 10 on suspicion it was smuggling drugs.

UPDATE 14 (2013-8-14): North Korean crew likely to be returned to DPRK and UN inspectors in Panama. According to Reuters:

Panama likely will return the 35-member crew of a North Korean ship detained for smuggling Cuban weapons under 10,000 tons of sugar to their native country in about a month, a government official familiar with the incident said on Tuesday.

“They’re going to leave soon, like in a month, most likely they’ll go back to Korea,” the official said on condition of anonymity. “There is another possibility that they’re returned to Cuba and from there go to Korea.”

The Central American country will not respond to a request from Pyongyang seeking a “diplomatic manner” to resolve the future of the ship, the Chong Chon Gang, until the U.N. Security Council determines whether the shipment breached a wide-ranging North Korean arms embargo.

The crew have been charged with threatening Panama’s security by seeking to move undeclared weapons through the Panama Canal. The Panamanian government official did not say why the crew likely would be released or how the charges would be resolved.

A team of six U.N. Security Council experts arrived in Panama on Monday and will issue a report on whether the weapons violate a 7-year-old U.N. ban on arms transfers to North Korea because of its nuclear weapons and missile development.

UPDATE 13 (2013-8-11): Panama announces end of search of North Korean ship. According to the AP (via USA Today):

Panamanian officials say they’re ending their search of a North Korean ship that was detained as it carried weapons from Cuba.

Public Security Minister Jose Raul Mulino tells the Associated Press that Panama removed the ship’s last unopened container, which was buried under sacks of sugar, and found it held equipment for launching missiles.

Panama has unloaded and searched 25 containers, finding a variety of weapons systems and parts. Cuba says it was not violating sanctions meant to halt sophisticated arms sales to North Korea because the ship contained obsolete weapons being sent back for repair.

But some of the containers were loaded with undeclared live munitions, and United Nations experts will be in Panama in the coming days to prepare a report on whether the shipment violated sanctions.

UPDATE 12 (2013-8-11): Panama finds explosives on North Korea-bound ship. According to the Straits Times:

Authorities in Panama say they have found more explosives aboard a North Korean-flagged ship detained in the Panama Canal for carrying undeclared arms from Cuba.

Anti-drug prosecutor Javier Caraballo said on Saturday that inspectors found a kind of “anti-tank RPG (rocket-propelled grenade)” explosive when they opened one of five wooden boxes on the Chong Chon Gang. He said the other boxes were not opened because of security fears.

UPDATE 11 (2013-8-2): Panama finds munitions in the ship. According to the Associated Press:

Explosive-sniffing dogs found ammunition for grenade launchers and other unidentified types, said prosecutor Javier Caraballo, who did not specify the amount of munitions.

As of Friday, crews had only unloaded two of five cargo holds in the ship. Besides the munitions, they had found radar and control systems for launching missiles, two Mig-21 aircraft and 12 motors.

The weapons discovery triggered an investigation by the U.N. Security Council committee that monitors the sanctions against North Korea. The council is sending a team to see if the discovery violates U.N. sanctions. Panama earlier this week asked to postpone the visit to Aug. 12 because it is taking so long to unload the ship.

Panama has filed charges against the crew for transporting undeclared military equipment.

UPDATE 10 (2013-8-1): Melissa Hanham has done thorough research into this story for 38 North.

UPDATE 9 (2013-7-31): Panama uncovers fighter jet engines from seized North Korean ship. According to the Straits Times:

Panamanian investigators unloading the cargo of a seized North Korean ship carrying arms from Cuba under sacks of brown sugar have found 12 engines for MiG-21 fighter jets and five military vehicles that officials said resembled missile control centers.

Investigators earlier this month had found two MiG-21 fighter jets and two missile radar systems on board the Chong Chon Gang, which was bound for North Korea when it was stopped by officials.

Panamanian Security Minister Jose Mulino said on Tuesday the cargo appeared to fall within what Cuba had said was a range of “obsolete” arms being sent to North Korea for repair.

Panama asked the United Nations to delay the arrival of investigators by a week until Aug. 12, because the process of unloading cargo found under 100,000 tons of sugar has taken longer than expected.

UPDATE 8 (2013-7-26): Panamanian authorities continue search at seized North Korean ship (La Prensa website, Panama City, in Spanish 26 Jul 13). Translated by BBC monitoring service:

The first drug prosecutor Javier Caraballo, said yesterday that the military equipment found so far in the North Korean vessel Chong Chon Gang matches the list issued by the Cuban Government last week, when they recognized the ownership of the shipment that was bound to North Korea.

According to Caraballo, however, inspection practiced in the vessel and that yesterday reached its eleventh consecutive day, is not based only on the content of the Cuban list.

He explained that until yesterday they had found nine containers in the first warehouse, seven of which were opened.

In these seven deposits they found two MIG-21 Bis aircraft, anti-aircraft radar systems, fire control radars, high power electrical generators and military trailers, all of which coincid! es with what was on the list of the Caribbean country.

The other two containers, he said, have not been opened yet.

He acknowledged that they could not go at the speed they expected in searching, sorting and inventory of military cargo, due to the large amount of sugar bags placed on the containers.

“The issue is going a little slow, not because of the difficulty of the work, but by the amount of sugar and because we have to locate a place to put the product” he added.

He also reiterated that the prosecution has had difficulty making inquiries statements to the 35 crew members detained since none speaks Spanish, few understand English and the Public Ministry has no Korean language translators.

The 35 sailors were charged for alleged crimes against collective security, in the form of possession and illicit arms trafficking, and prosecution ordered custody. All are being held at the base of Sherman.

Meanwhile, Public Security Minister, Jose! Raul Mulino, who was there part of the afternoon yesterday at the port of Manzanillo, confirmed that the hauling of sacks of sugar in the five holds of the ship continues.

He said that the ninth container located in the first warehouse in the boat has not been taken out, because it is almost buried under pounds of brown sugar.

He reported that the eighth container is already in the harbor and was revised with scanners, but it has not been inspected because it is expected that the prosecution authorities give the corresponding order.

Mulino said that since last Tuesday he asked the Ministry of Health to fumigate the ship once a day, in order to clear the enormous amount of bees that invade the vessels by the presence of sugar.

He added that in two weeks they will have the results of the health tests carried to the sugar by experts from the Institute of Agricultural Marketing.

UPDATE 7 (2013-7-20): The Washington Post updates us on other shipments between the DPRK and Cuba:

The freighter’s detention has thrown a light on the secretive deals North Korea is making, possibly in breach of United Nations sanctions, as it struggles for survival.

The voyage of the freighter Chong Chon Gang to Cuba, far from the Chinese waters where it normally operates, is not the first time a ship from the isolated communist country has followed that route.

North Korean vessels have made at least seven other trips to Cuba in the past few years, with three stopping at the same two ports as the Chong Chon Gang, according to two organizations that monitor North Korea, the Panamanian authorities and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Several of the freighters were operated or managed by Ocean Maritime Management (OMM), a Pyongyang-based company with links to the North Korean government, which is also the registered manager of the detained vessel, according to the Wisconsin Project, which uses ship tracking databases to follow North Korean and other vessels.

The journeys, made by ships that normally stay close to the Korean peninsula, are an indication that the Chong Chon Gang’s voyage may have been part of a wider, established trade route, amid an increasingly warm relationship between the two communist nations.

In a statement, Cuba said there was a “legitimate contract” for North Korea to repair and then return armaments, which they said included antiaircraft missile systems and two disassembled Mig-21s. The sugar on board was probably intended as payment for the work, according to monitors.

In the days before it was seized, the Chong Chon Gang had passed through the Panama Canal and called at two Cuban ports: Havana and Puerto Padre, a major sugar export center, according to the Wisconsin Project.

Another vessel, the Oun Chong Nyon Ho, made an almost identical voyage through the canal and to the same two Cuban ports in May 2012. It passed back through the Panamanian waterway without being searched. In May 2009, the North Korean- flagged Mu Du Bong went through the canal and stopped in Havana, Cuba’s capital city. Both are currently managed by OMM, according to the Wisconsin Project.

A third ship, the Po Thong Gang, traveled through the canal and called at Puerto Padre in April 2012. During the previous year, it had visited Havana and Santiago de Cuba, according to research by Matthew Godsey of the Wisconsin Project. It was linked to OMM until 2008 and is now registered to a different company at the same address, Godsey said.

Hugh Griffiths, a maritime arms trafficking expert based at SIPRI, said his monitoring database has recorded two further North Korean-linked ships that have docked in Cuba on three occasions in the past 18 months. Two of the trips stopped at both Havana and Puerto Padre, the two Cuban ports visited by the Chong Chon Gang and the Oun Chong Nyon Ho, he said.

Griffiths said there was a “definite possibility” that other ships had made the journey from North Korea to Cuba undetected by registering under false ownership or by turning off onboard satellite transponders to avoid being tracked, as the Chong Chon Gang appears to have done.

The OMM company is registered to a P.O. box number in the North Korean capital and has 17 ships that largely ply their trade in the waters around China. Gary Li, a senior analyst at IHS Maritime, a consultancy firm, described it as the biggest state-owned shipping company in North Korea.

“It claims to have shipping agents in all the major [North Korean] ports as well as overseas, such as Dalian in China, Port Said in Egypt and Vladivostok in Russia,” he said.

OMM also owns a crew-training center and the Ryongnam Dockyard on North Korea’s west coast, which has reportedly been involved in the construction of military vessels, he said. OMM is also responsible for handling passport applications for all North Korean sailors.

Li said the Chong Chon Gang’s detention and voyages by other ships owned by OMM demonstrates that “some kind of ‘trade route’ no matter how slight, has been established between [North Korea] and Cuba.”

John Park, an expert on North Korea and associate at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, said that the Chong Chon Gang’s voyage would not have been a “freelance-type transaction” but would have been part of a “broader revenue generation effort to essentially make money for the regime.”

Park said only the military was capable of carrying out repair work on the Cuban armaments, adding, “Given the contents of the consignment, it looks like it is a North Korean military-linked state trading company.”

Calls to the company’s listed phone number were disconnected a few seconds after being answered.

“The relationship between [North Korea] and Cuba is a lot closer than it used to be,” said Michael Madden, editor of the North Korea Leadership Watch. “There’s been a lot more contact and interactions between senior Cuban officials and senior North Korean officials in recent years.”

Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia nonproliferation program at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, said the interception in Panama is unlikely to disrupt those ties and North Korea would look for a new route. Repairing old weapons is one of the “few things that North Korea is good at,” he said. “I don’t think the North Koreans are going to give that up.”

UPDATE 6 (2013-7-18): According to the Associated Press:

Panama has filed charges against the crew of a North Korean ship seized as it tried to pass through the Panama Canal while carrying obsolete weaponry from Cuba hidden under bags of sugar, possibly in violation of U.N. sanctions.

Ramon Lopez, operations director for Panama’s National Aeronautics Service, said authorities decided to stop the ship after getting intelligence from the United States and other countries about a suspicious North Korean vessel.

“There was a lot of tension and strong resistance during the inspection,” said Lopez, adding that the inspection lasted for three days.

Panama’s top prosecutor, Javier Caraballo, said the captain and 35 crew members have been charged with “attempts against Panama’s security” and “illegally transporting undeclared military equipment.”

The North Korean Foreign Ministry had urged Panama to let the crew go, but Caraballo said late Wednesday that the charges will force the crew to remain while authorities search the ship further. Investigators were still unloading sacks of raw brown Cuban sugar Thursday.

Caraballo said the North Korean sailors could face four to six years in prison if convicted on the “attempts against Panama’s security” charge alone.

“According to the ship’s manifesto, this boat only had 220,000 quintals of sugar. It never declared the military weapons, and obviously this in itself is a violation of the rules and it puts in grave danger all who transit through the Panama Canal,” he said.

The captain and crew members have refused to speak to authorities, Caraballo said.

Caraballo also said shipping the weapons through the canal likely violated U.N. resolutions that ban North Korea from buying and selling missiles and other heavy arms.

Cuba has said it was sending the weapons, including missiles, two jet fighters and radar equipment, for repair in North Korea.

Panama’s government announced Wednesday night that visas issued by the Panamanian Embassy in Cuba’s capital to two North Korean officials based there were not valid because they were not authorized by prosecutors.

The diplomats had arranged to travel to this Central American country to inspect the ship and give their country’s version of events, but authorities said Panama would have to re-issue the visas.

“Only the attorney general may authorize citizens of the Republic of North Korea to conduct inspections of the ship because it’s a seized ship,” the presidency said in a statement. “The requested document in our embassy is not a valid one.”

The discovery of the weapons aboard the freighter Chong Chon Gang on Monday is expected to trigger an investigation by the U.N. Security Council committee that monitors sanctions against North Korea. Panamanian officials said U.N. investigators were expected in Panama on Thursday.

Panamanian security officials described to The Associated Press some tense moments aboard the ship after they stopped and boarded it July 10 for an inspection on suspicion it was carrying drugs.

Officials inspected the freighter while anchored a few miles from the port city of Colon. Officers then ordered the ship moved to a pier at the international port of Manzanillo.

Upon arrival, the captain and 35 crew members started to act aggressively, said Lopez of the aeronautics service. He said the captain went into a bathroom and came out holding a knife against his neck, threatening to cut himself.

“He made a small wound on his neck,” Lopez said.

A sailor was able to neutralize the captain and then the rest of the crew got restless and agents had to separate them, Lopez said.

“They started yelling and beating on a table, on the ship walls,” Lopez said. “They were demanding we free them.”

The captain was taken to a hospital in Colon, where he is in stable condition.

Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, who first announced the seizure of the ship Monday, said the captain had tried to commit suicide and had a heart attack.

Before the ship arrived in Manzanillo, the agents discovered that under sacks of sugar there was a metal container.

They opened the container and first found a radar control system for surface-to-air missiles, Panamanian authorities said.

Most of the crew was taken off the ship except for two sailors who remain to act as witnesses of the inspection by authorities, Caraballo said.

Read the full story here:
Panama Charges Crew of Seized North Korean Ship
Associated Press
Juan Zamorano and Kathia Martinez

UPDATE 5 (2013-7-17): The Chongchon-gang has been in trouble before. According to the Wall Street Journal’s Korea Real Time:

The 9,147-ton freighter, registered in 1977 to Chongchonggan Shipping Company in Pyongyang, has breached international laws repeatedly. In 2010 it was detained in Ukraine and found to be carrying narcotics and other contraband. In 2001 it set off alarms in South Korea by sailing through the country’s territorial waters near Jeju Island without approval. It later detoured.

This time it raised suspicions by disappearing.

Open-source Global Information System data show the Chong Chon Gang sailed through the Panama Canal on June 1 with a stated destination of Havana, Cuba. After that, the ship disappeared from the GIS satellite-based tracking system for about 40 days before it reappeared at the canal.

The satellite tracks have not recorded any calls by the ship on any Cuban ports, though the North Korean freighter may had just switched off its Automatic Identification System transmitter.

Panama’s security minister, Jose Raul Mulino, said Panamanian officials began tracking the cargo freighter on July 10. Two days later, the ship approached the narrow waterway that Panamanian officials used to corner and capture it after getting a tip that the ship was carrying illegal drugs.

Before being seized in Panama, 35 crew allegedly resisted, with its captain attempting suicide.

UPDATE 4 (2013-7-17): KCNA has published a statement related to the whole situation:

DPRK FM Spokesman Urges Panamanian Authorities Let Apprehended Crewmen, Ship of DPRK Leave

Pyongyang, July 17 (KCNA) — A spokesman for the DPRK Foreign Ministry gave the following answer to a question put by KCNA on Wednesday as regards the case of the DPRK trading ship Chongchongang apprehended in Panama:

There occurred an abnormal case in which the DPRK trading ship Chongchongang was apprehended by the Panamanian investigation authorities on suspicion of “drug transport,” a fiction, before passing through Panama canal after leaving Havana Port recently.

The Panamanian investigation authorities rashly attacked and detained the captain and crewmen of the ship on the plea of “drug investigation” and searched its cargo but did not discover any drug. Yet, they are justifying their violent action, taking issue with other kind of cargo aboard the ship.

This cargo is nothing but aging weapons which are to send back to Cuba after overhauling them according to a legitimate contract.

The Panamanian authorities should take a step to let the apprehended crewmen and ship leave without delay.

UPDATE 3 (2013-7-17): IHS Janes reports that the components are missile parts. According to the Los Angeles Times:

The military equipment shown in images tweeted by Panama’s president after his government stopped a ship en route to North Korea are radar parts for the SA-2 family of surface-to-air missiles, according to IHS Jane’s Intelligence, the defense consulting firm.

In an emailed statement Tuesday, Jane’s identified the parts as an RSN-75 “Fan Song” fire control radar for the missiles.

The way the cargo “was concealed and the reported reaction of the crew strongly suggests this was a covert shipment of equipment,” the firm said. “One possibility is that Cuba could be sending the system to North Korea for an upgrade. In this case, it would likely be returned to Cuba and the cargo of sugar could be a payment for the services.”

In another scenario, the fire-control radar equipment could have been en route to North Korea to augment Pyongyang’s existing air defense network, Jane’s said.

“North Korea’s air defense network is arguably one of the densest in the world, but it is also based on obsolete weapons, missiles and radars,” the firm said. “In particular, its high altitude SA-2/3/5 surface-to-air missiles are ineffective in a modern electronic warfare environment.”

UPDATE 2 (2013-7-16): The New York Times offers more details:

It started with a tip: that a rusty North Korean freighter, which had not plied the Caribbean in years, was carrying drugs or arms amid more than 200,000 sacks of Cuban brown sugar.

It ended with a five-day, eventually violent standoff between Panamanian marines and 35 North Korean crew members, armed largely with sticks, who were subdued and arrested while their captain, claiming he was having a heart attack, tried to commit suicide. Underneath all that sugar, it turned out, were parts for what appeared to be elements of an antiquated Soviet-era missile radar system that was headed, evidently, to North Korea — a country that usually exports missile technology around the world, rather than bringing it in.

But American and Panamanian officials were still trying to understand why the ship’s crew had fought so hard to repel a boarding party as the ship tried to traverse the Panama Canal. After all, the equipment they were protecting would make a nice exhibit in a museum of cold war military artifacts. “We’re talking old,” one official briefed on the episode said. “When this stuff was new, Castro was plotting revolutions.”

The episode also offered a window on the desperate measures North Korea is taking to keep hard currency and goods flowing at a time when its ships are tracked everywhere, old customers like Syria and Iran are facing sanctions and scrutiny of their own, and its partners have dwindled to a few outliers.

Still, Cuba’s role was puzzling — at a time when Washington has talked of relaxing restrictions and Cuba’s leadership has seemed more eager to improve its ties with the West than to strengthen relations with cold war-era partners.

Even by the measure of bizarre stories about North Korea’s black-market dealings, the events of the past five days in Panama set some records. In recent times North Korean shipments to Myanmar and the Middle East have been tracked and in some cases intercepted, a testament to how closely American spy satellites follow the country’s aging cargo fleet.

“What I can say for sure is that looking at illicit North Korea trade, their ships in particular, these guys are stumped for money, they are incredibly poor,” said Hugh Griffiths, an arms trafficking specialist at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. “Business deals that might look silly to us don’t look ridiculous to them.”

Panama’s president, Ricardo Martinelli, announced the discovery in a radio broadcast on Monday night, making it clear that the North Korean ship was in blatant violation of numerous United Nations sanctions. He even posted a photograph of the contraband on his Twitter account.

“We’re going to keep unloading the ship and figure out exactly what was inside,” Mr. Martinelli said. “You cannot go around shipping undeclared weapons of war through the Panama Canal.”

There was no comment on Tuesday from North Korea on the vessel’s seizure.

The Chong Chon Gang, a 36-year-old freighter, has its own peculiar history, and this was not the first time the vessel had encountered run-ins with maritime authorities. It was stopped in 2010 for carrying narcotics and ammunition, Mr. Griffiths said. He also said it had been attacked by Somali pirates.

According to IHS Fairplay, a London-based vessel-monitoring service, the freighter had not traveled the Western Hemisphere in at least four years. The monitoring data shows that it visited Panama in 2008 and Brazil in 2009.

Mr. Griffiths noted that its reappearance, even with the cover of a Cuban cargo of sugar, was bound to attract attention. He said interest in the vessel’s itinerary in recent weeks, which included a stopover in Havana, might have been heightened because of the July 3 visit to Cuba of North Korea’s top military commander, who conferred with President Raúl Castro. Cuban and North Korean news media publicized the trip.

“There are very few states where the North Korean chief of staff is welcomed for a high-level meeting,” Mr. Griffiths said.

American spy satellites regularly track North Korean vessels — but usually to stop weapons proliferation, not drugs. And as the intelligence agencies discovered several years ago, failure to monitor can lead to other lapses: the United States missed the construction of a North Korean nuclear reactor in Syria until Israeli officials brought evidence of it to Washington in 2007. Israel destroyed the reactor later that year.

Matthew Godsey, editor of the Risk Report, a publication of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, a proliferation research group in Washington that follows North Korean behavior, said the Chong Chon Gang might have also been able to travel in the region undetected in the past by turning off its satellite transponder, used by tracking services to monitor vessels for their own safety.

“I think North Korean vessels have been known to do that,” he said. “It’s dangerous, but when you’re carrying dangerous stuff it can happen. When you have a captain willing to kill himself, it wouldn’t surprise me.”

Mr. Martinelli and other Panamanian officials said the vessel’s 35 crew members were taken into custody on Sunday after they violently resisted efforts to redirect the vessel to the Panamanian port of Manzanillo, at the Atlantic end of the canal. He did not explain how the captain sought to commit suicide, and the captain’s condition was unknown.

José Raúl Mulino, Panama’s minister of security, said in a telephone interview that the entire crew had been detained at a naval base after committing what he called an act of “rebellion and sabotage” in trying to resist the boarding of the vessel. It was unclear whether they would face criminal prosecution or be sent back to North Korea.

Mr. Mulino said that the suspect cargo was hidden in two containers behind the sugar, and that all 220,000 to 230,000 sugar sacks aboard would be removed before the ship could be completely investigated. The process can take a while, he said, because the crew had disabled the unloading cranes, forcing the Panamanians to remove the bags by hand.

UPDATE 1 (2013-7-16): The Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued a press statement:

Statement about the North Korean ship Chong Chon Gang seized in Panama Canal

The authorities of the Republic of Panama have informed of the detention, in the Panamanian port of Colón, of the merchant vessel Chong Chon Gang, inscribed in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, coming from the Republic of Cuba.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs wishes to inform that said vessel sailed from a Cuban port to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, mainly loaded with 10,000 Tons of sugar.

In addition, the above mentioned vessel transported 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-twentieth century- to be repaired and returned to Cuba.

The agreements subscribed by Cuba in this field are supported by the need to maintain our defensive capacity in order to preserve national sovereignty.

The Republic of Cuba reiterates its firm and unwavering commitment with peace, disarmament, including nuclear disarmament, and respect for International Law.

ORIGINAL POST (2013-7-16): Panama detains DPRK-flagged vessel. According to Reuters (via Washington Post):

Panama has detained a North Korean-flagged ship coming from Cuba as it approached the Panama Canal with undeclared weapons, President Ricardo Martinelli said.

The weapons, hidden in containers of brown sugar, were detected after Panamanian authorities stopped the ship, suspecting it was carrying drugs. The vessel was pulled over near the port of Manzanillo on the Atlantic side of the canal.

“We’re going to keep unloading the ship and figure out exactly what was inside,” Martinelli told Panamanian television late on Monday, without giving further details.

“You cannot go around shipping undeclared weapons of war through the Panama Canal.”

Martinelli said the captain of the vessel tried to commit suicide after the ship was stopped. Panamanian authorities have detained some 35 crew members.

A spokeswoman for the canal said she did not have any more information and referred questions to the attorney general.

The attorney general’s office did not immediately return requests for comment.

Javier Caraballo, Panama’s top anti-drugs prosecutor, told local television the ship was en route to North Korea.


DPRK updates “Ten Principles”

August 9th, 2013

According to the Daily NK:

The North Korean authorities have revised the “Ten Principles for the Establishment of the One-Ideology System” (hereafter the “Ten Principles”). The phrase “General Kim Jong Il” has been added to the revised version, whose core structure remains in place.

The Ten Principles, each of which has a number of sub-sections, reflect the demand that all North Korean citizens be guided by the thoughts and deeds of Kim Il Sung. They were formulated in the 1970s by Kim Jong Il during the process of his anointment as successor, and act as guidelines that both underwrite Kim family rule over North Korea and facilitate the mass repression of the country’s populace. They are memorized by every citizen.

A source from North Hamkyung Province revealed the breaking news on the 9th, telling Daily NK by phone, “They announced the new Ten Principles in a provincial Party meeting last week. Study of the new Ten Principles was launched in factory and enterprise cell lectures last weekend; we expect them to start study sessions on the new version in people’s units this coming weekend.” Given the timing, it is likely that study of the new Ten Principles will begin in schools when students return in September.

“They have not produced a formal pamphlet outlining the new Ten Principles, so cadres have been disseminating them from their own official documents,” the source explained. “There are no huge differences from the old Ten Principles; they have just added the words ‘the General’ after the name of the Suryeong.”

“The second principle, which used to state that ‘We must honor the Great Leader comrade Kim Il Sung with all our loyalty’ has been amended to state ‘We must honor the Great Leader comrade Kim Il Sung and General Kim Jong Il with all our loyalty’,” the source explained. “They’ve inserted the phrase ‘General Kim Jong Il’ because Kim Jong Il is Kim Jong Eun’s father, and to help make the idolization of Kim Jong Il permanent.”

In North Korean dictionaries of philosophy, the Ten Principles are defined as follows: “The ideological system by which the whole party and people is firmly armed with the revolutionary ideology of the Suryeong and united solidly around him, carrying out the revolutionary battle and construction battle under the sole leadership of the Suryeong.”

According to Yonhap (via Global Post):

The communist country changed the “10 rules of its monolithic ideological system” in June, which have a more direct impact on everyday lives of its citizens than the country’s Constitution or the bylaw of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK).

The rules were first introduced in April 1974 to outline the importance of unconditional obedience to the leader and what actions must be taken by the country as a whole to express allegiance.

Local Pyongyang watchers claimed that the rules made up of 10 articles and 65 sections were reduced by five sections, with emphasis placed on justifying the inheritance of power by the incumbent leader by highlighting the need for the country to fully complete the legacies left behind by the country’s founder Kim Il-sung and his son and former leader Kim Jong-il.

The move marks the first time Pyongyang opted to change the rules governing the leadership system in 39 years.

“The changes are tailored to reflect the character and goal of the country under Kim Jong-un and to strengthen the leader’s grip on power,” said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul.

In a characteristic dynastic succession of power in the North, the current leader Kim Jong-un took power following the sudden death of his father Kim Jong-il in late 2011.

Every North Korean is taught to pledge loyalty to each generation of the Kim family, known in the communist country as the Mount Paektu bloodline, that has run the country since its founding in 1948.

Mount Paektu, or Baekdu, located on the Sino-North Korean border, is the highest peak on the Korean Peninsula.

The latest revisions to the 10 key rules also omitted all reference to dictatorship of the proletariat and communism. The North had erased all mention of communism from its Constitution and the WPK bylaw in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

In addition, the prologue of the new rules stated that the country has acquired military capabilities based on nuclear arms and that it is in the process of striving for economic self-reliance. The North had proclaimed itself as a nuclear power when it changed its Constitution in April last year.

Related to the changes, the Ministry of Unification said that the recent amendment is part of a continuing process of trying to prop up the current leader.

“The latest move mirrors changes that have already been reflected in the Constitution and other laws,” Seoul’s unification ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk said.

Read the full story here:
NK Adds Kim Jong Il to ‘Ten Principles’
Daily NK
Kang Mi Jin


US exports to DPRK reach US$5.1m in Q2 2013

August 8th, 2013

According to Yonhap (via Global Post):

U.S. exports to North Korea amounted to slightly over US$5 million in the first half of this year, with most of them shipped in June when Pyongyang shifted to a charm offensive, data showed Thursday.

According to the data by the U.S. Department of Commerce, American exports to the communist country totaled $5.1 million in the January-June period, down 25 percent from a year earlier. There were no first-half U.S. imports from North Korea.

U.S. exports to North Korea stood at a mere $1 million in the first five months of the year, but the figure soared to $4 million in June alone, according to the data.

North Korea conducted its third nuclear test in February and had made bellicose threats against the U.S. and South Korea. The unruly nation, however, had appeared to change its course in June by offering talks with them.

Most of the U.S. exports to the North were relief goods, according to media reports.

Citing a department official, the Washington-based Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that the U.S. exported meat worth $80,000 and $11,000 of fabric in June, with the remainder being free aid such as food and medicine.

The Voice of America (VOA) also said some 95.5 percent of the total exports between the two in the January-June period constitutes free assistance provided by U.S. private institutions.

The U.S. maintains a partial embargo against North Korea, banning its companies, their foreign branches and its people from making any type of commercial transactions, including exports, imports and investments.

Read the full story:
U.S. exports to N. Korea reach US$5.1 mln in H1: data
Yonhap (via Global Post)