UN imposes sanctions on operator of North Korean ship seized in Panama with arms from Cuba

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The United Nations imposed sanctions on the North Korean shipping company that operates a ship seized by Panama in July 2013 for carrying undeclared military equipment from Cuba ordered all countries to freeze its assets.

The Security Council committee monitoring sanctions on North Korea announced late Monday that it had added Ocean Maritime Management Company, Ltd., which is headquartered in Pyongyang and operates the vessel Chong Chon Gang, to its sanctions blacklist.

Panamanian authorities stopped the Chong Chon Gang as it tried to enter the Panama Canal because they suspected it was transporting drugs. Instead, they found two Cuban fighter jets in perfect condition, missiles and live munitions beneath its cargo of sugar.

The committee said it imposed sanctions on Ocean Maritime Management because "it played a key role in arranging the shipment of concealed cargo of arms and related materiel" in violation of a U.N. arms embargo imposed against Pyongyang in response to North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.

U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power accused Cuba and North Korea of "a cynical, outrageous and illegal attempt ... to circumvent United Nations sanctions prohibiting the export of weapons to North Korea."

She said that imposing a global asset freeze on Ocean Maritime Management means that the company will no longer be able to operate internationally.

Imposing sanctions on the shipping company "sends an important message to the companies directly involved in violations of U.N. sanctions regimes: we will find you and hold you accountable," Power said in a statement.

In June, a Panamanian judge absolved the captain and two other officers of charges stemming from the seizure of the ship and freed them, saying the issue of whether the ship violated the U.N. arms embargo against North Korea was not a matter for Panama to decide. The court ruled that the weapons and other equipment should be turned over to Panamanian authorities.

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.

Power said the United States remains concerned about attempts by North Korea to circumvent international sanctions and will remain "vigilant" in enforcing Security Council sanctions.