(Updated 9:40 p.m. ET)
A statement from Cuba's foreign ministry says weapons that Panama seized in a North Korean ship were mid-20th Century models that Cuba was sending to North Korea for repair, according to reports from the BBC and Reuters.
The statement termed the cache as "obsolete defensive weaponry." Reuters said the weapons included "two anti-aircraft batteries, nine disassembled rockets, and two MiG-21 aircraft, all Soviet-era military weaponry built in the middle of the last century."
In its statement, the Cuban government said: "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 BBC reported.
(Original post below)
Panama seized a North Korean ship Tuesday that the government said departed from Cuba and contained "undeclared weapons of war." Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli tweeted pictures of what looked like part of a missile system. He said the ship was stopped in the Panama Canal because it was suspected of carrying drugs.
Authorities found the weapons underneath a shipment of sugar, Martinelli said.
As The Guardian reports, this appears to be a violation of United Nations weapons-trade sanctions against North Korea.
"Neither the Cuban government nor its communist ally in North Korea commented on the seizure," the Guardian reports.
"The 35-member crew have been detained, including the captain.
"The Chong Chon Gang was stopped near Manzanillo on the Atlantic side of the canal.
"Security Minister Jose Raul Mulino said the ship 'aroused suspicion by the violent reaction of the captain and the crew.' "
You may be asking yourself, why would a ship be leaving Cuba with weapons of this kind? The New York Times quotes defense consulting firm IHS Jane's Intelligence as saying the images show an "RSN-75 'Fan Song' fire control radar for the SA-2 family of surface-to-air missiles." That's a Soviet system.
The Times goes on:
" 'One possibility is that Cuba could be sending the system to North Korea for an upgrade,' it said. 'In this case, it would likely be returned to Cuba and the cargo of sugar could be a payment for the services.'
"But IHS Jane's added that the fire control radar equipment could also have been en route to North Korea to augment North Korea's air defense network, which it said was based on obsolete weapons, missiles and radars."
Reuters reports that the U.S. praised the seizure.
"The United States strongly supports Panama's decision to inspect the DPRK flagged vessel," State Department deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell said. "The United States commends the action that the government of Panama took in this case."
Meanwhile, the Panamanian government said it will continue to search the ship.