Panama Court Releases N.Korean Sailors

A Panamanian court has acquitted the captain and two other officers of a North Korean ship of arms trafficking charges. The ship was carrying an undeclared cargo of Cuban arms as it tried to enter the Panama Canal last year.

The court ordered the release of the three officers of the Chong Chon Gang Friday.

The ship's 32 other North Korean crewmembers had been allowed to sail the vessel back to North Korea in February after the ship's owner paid a $666,000 fine.

North Korean sailors look out from the deck of their cargo ship Chong Chon Gang in Sherman Bay near Colon City, Panama on Feb. 12, 2014. /AP North Korean sailors look out from the deck of their cargo ship Chong Chon Gang in Sherman Bay near Colon City, Panama on Feb. 12, 2014. /AP

North Korean officials said the commandeered arms shipment was part of a legitimate deal.

The captain and crew were detained in July 2013 when the ship was caught smuggling Soviet-era arms from Cuba, including surface-to-air missile and fighter jet parts, in direct violation of UN resolutions. The cargo had been hidden under tons of sugar.

In March, a UN panel said North Korea uses sophisticated means to avoid international sanctions imposed by the Security Council.

The report said Pyongyang's embassies in Cuba and Singapore are suspected of facilitating banned arms trades.

UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea prohibit a range of weapons imports from and exports to North Korea, such as combat aircraft and missile systems.

Some information for this report comes from AP and Reuters.

VOA News / Jun. 30, 2014 08:09 KST