The Rendon Group Snapshot Report – 19 August 2013

by admin on August 19, 2013

Each week The Rendon Group’s media analysts will focus on a different continent and a different issue affecting that continent. As always, we remain available to answer any questions you may have and to provide additional information upon request. For more information regarding The Rendon Group’s products and services, please contact us at or +1-202-745-4900.


UN Inspects North Korean-Flagged Vessel Seized by Panama


This week’s snapshot focuses on recent developments concerning the Chong Chon Gang, a North Korean-flagged ship that was seized by authorities in Panama on 15JUL. The vessel, which was sailing from Cuba, was found to contain Soviet-era munitions, and on 11AUG authorities discovered more explosives, including ammunition for an “anti-tank RPG.” While UN experts have begun an assessment to ascertain whether the ship violated sanctions against North Korea, Panama may slap a $1 million USD fine on the freighter.

News Summary of events during the week of 11AUG-18 AUG

  • On 11AUG, Panamanian authorities found more explosives on board the ship, including ammunition for an “anti-tank RPG”. (AP)
  • On 12AUG, Panama ruled out a diplomatic deal with North Korea over the vessel, and insisted that the matter be settled by the United Nations after Pyongyang had reached out to Panama City to seek ‘amiable cooperation.’ (Miami Herald)
  • On 13AUG, UN experts began to inspect the arms cargo to assess whether North Korea had violated an arms embargo. (Itar-Tass)
  • On 13AUG, a Panamanian official said that the 35-member crew will be returned to North Korea in approximately one month. (REUT)
  • On 15AUG, the Panama Canal authority said that it may slap a $1 million fine on the North Korean freighter for illicit arms transportation. (AFP)
  • On 17AUG, a senior prosecutor said that the captain of the ship attempted suicide when Panamanian authorities attempted to inspect the vessel. (Asahi)

Sample of Twitter Handles Regarding the Seized Ship

  • @prensacom – La Prensa Panama, daily newspaper covering events in Panama and internationally, in Spanish
  • @W7VOA – Voice of America correspondent Steve Herman, covering Asia
  • @ROKreport – Open-source Korea news aggregator by US Army Garrison Camp Humphreys


Sample of Third Party Validators Regarding the Seized Ship

Name Title Organization Quote News Article Date

Ben Rhode

Senior Research Associate

Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

captain’s suicide attempt might have been an effort to escape severe punishment by officials in North Korea for failing to carry out his mission”

Panama finds weapons on North Korean ship coming from Cuba – Reuters

16 July 2013

Arturo Lopez-Levy

PhD Candidate

University of Denver

The arms may be outdated, but nevertheless, their shipment and transfer to North Korea is a violation of UN Security Council sanctions.”

OPINION: Irresponsible Cuban action shouldn’t bring same here

13 August 2013

Matthew Godsey

Editor, Risk Report

Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control

“The Chong Chon Gang may have traveled in the region undetected previously by turning off its satellite transponder, used by tracking services to monitor vessels for their own safety,”

“Cuba: ‘Obsolete’ weapons on ship were going to North Korea for repair”


17 July 2013


Melissa Hanham

Research Associate

East Asia Nonproliferation Program, James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies

“Snappy titles aside, the Panamanian interdiction of Cuban arms bound for North Korea is about much more than missiles. It challenges the world’s sanctions regimes by testing member states’ abilities to meet, enforce and carry out their obligations.”

“North Korea’s Cuban Missile Crisis”


01 August 2013

Gordon Chang

Author and Journalist

Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes On the World

“Now, if they can smuggle missile radar into Cuba, you know, God knows what else they can put there. We do not need a replay of the Cuban missile crisis, this time with the North Koreans’ fingers on the triggers instead of the Soviets.”

“Cuba: ‘Obsolete’ weapons on ship were going to North Korea for repair”

17 July 2013


Sample of open source research conducted by TRG Analysts related to the seized ship

1. Panama finds explosives on North Korea-bound ship

Media: Associated Press

Byline: N/A

Date: 11 August 2013

PANAMA CITY — 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 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.

The discovery comes just over a week after authorities said explosive-sniffing dogs had found another batch of ammunition for grenade launchers and other unidentified types of munitions.

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2. Panama says no diplomatic deal on North Korean ship that carried Cuban weapons

Media: Miami Herald

Byline: Juan O. Tamayo

Date: 12 August 2013

Panama is insisting that the case of a North Korean ship carrying contraband Cuban weapons must be handled by the United Nations despite a soothing diplomatic note from Pyongyang, according a Panamanian government official.

The verbal note from Pyongyang’s embassy in Havana noted that the ship did not seek to endanger the security of the Panama Canal and that North Korea hopes for “amiable cooperation” to resolve the case “diplomatically,” the official said.

North Korea also asked in the note Friday that two of its diplomats be allowed into Panama to provide consular services to the 35 crewmen of the freighter Chong Chon Gang, said the official, who requested anonymity to speak frankly about the case.

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3. UN SC experts to start checking arms found on North Korean ship in Panama Canal

Media: Itar-Tass (Russia)

Byline: N/A

Date: 13 August 2013

UNITED NATIONS, August 13 (Itar-Tass) – Experts of the Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council on Tuesday will start an inspection of the arms found by Panamanian authorities in July aboard a North Korean ship that was sailing from Cuba. Initially, the start of the inspection had been planned for August 5, but it was postponed at the request of Panama’s authorities that faced difficulties with discharging 10 tons of sugar from the vessel. The illegal freight was discovered under the sugar.

A source in the UN expert group told Itar-Tass that the cargo examination, according to the preliminary plan, will last until August 16, and the progress report will be issued within two weeks after that. “Our procedures provide for the submission of the report within 14 days after returning from the trip, but I hope that we will be able to prepare it earlier than that,” said the official.

According to him, the report will likely include only the facts found during the examination. “I do not think we will be in a position to make definite conclusions, since we may have questions to other parties – not least to Cuba. We will have to collect all the information before we put an end to the investigation,” the source said.

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4. Panama: UN probes North Korea arms shipment

Media: BBC

Byline: N/A

Date: 13 August 2013

UN officials have begun inspecting an arms shipment found on a North Korean ship, Panama’s security minister says.

The Chong Chon Gang was seized last month on the Panama Canal. Inspectors looking for drugs found Cuban arms and two Soviet-made MiG-21 fighter jets.

Cuba says the weapons were being sent to North Korea for refurbishment.

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5. Panama likely to release crew of detained ship to North Korea: official

Media: Reuters

Byline: N/A

Date: 13 August 2013

(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.

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6. N.Korea arms ship faces possible $1 mn fine: Panama

Media: Agence France-Presse (AFP)

Byline: N/A

Date: 15 August 2013

The Panama Canal authority said Thursday it will impose as much as a $1 million fine 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 authorities were still mulling the size of the fine.

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7. Panama: N. Korean crew fought inspectors to hide weapons

Media: The Asahi Shimbun (Japan)

Byline: Yoshiaki Kasuga

Date: 17 August 2013

PANAMA CITY—The crew of a North Korean ship put up fierce resistance and the captain attempted suicide when Panamanian authorities tried to inspect cargo that contained undeclared weapons, including MiG-21 fighter jets, a senior prosecutor said.

The cargo ship Chong Chon Gang was seized on July 11 when it tried to pass through the Panama Canal on its way from Cuba. The weapons were found in containers covered by about 200,000 bags of sugar.

In an interview with The Asahi Shimbun, Panama’s deputy chief prosecutor, Javier Caraballo, who is in charge of the case, described how crew members attempted to block the Panamanian authorities.

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