North Korean smuggling drama in Panama.

North Korean smuggling drama in Panama.

IT BEGINS with a North Korean ship with dangerously suspicious cargo on its way back from Cuba. As the picture above shows, it’s suspected to be a missile, which violates the U.N. sanctions against North Korea for their nuclear program. Provided to CNN and reported by Barbara Starr, it was found during an anti-drug inspection among cargo of brown sugar.

When the Panamanian authorities confronted the crew there was what is being reported as a “violent” exchange during which the crew tried to sabotage the ship by “by cutting cables on the cranes that would be used to unload cargo.”

To top that, Panamanian officials told CNN that the captain suffered a heart attack and tried to commit suicide.

More from the CNN report, which is really worth a read.

“If it is confirmed that the vessel was carrying arms or related materiel and that the shipment was part of a purchase or sale to or from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, then there would indeed be a breach of the U.N. sanctions regime relating to that country,” spokeswoman Morana Song said.

Military analyst IHS Jane’s released a statement Tuesday identifying the equipment shown in the photos as “fire control” radar equipment for surface-to-air missiles.

Jane’s proposed two theories as to why the equipment was on board the ship. “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,” the statement said.

Jane’s other theory was that “the fire-control radar equipment could have been en route to North Korea to augment Pyongyang’s existing air defense network. 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.”

Two senior U.S. officials said the U.S. had been tracking the ship, as had the Panamanians, for quite a while, as the ship was spotted going through the Panama Canal to Havana, Cuba, then back toward the canal again.

State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell cited the ship’s history of drug smuggling: “Public reports from 2010 and also a U.N. panel of experts report from 2012 cite this history. So this vessel has a well-known history in this regard.”