Red Cross says crew of seized North Korean ship well
Partial view of North Korean vessel Chong Chon Gang at Manzanillo harbour in Colon, 90 km from Panama City on July 16, 2013. A delegation from the Panamanian Red Cross Tuesday visited the 35 crew members from a North Korea ship being held for carrying undeclared Cuban weapons.
"They are OK. They are all calm," said Panamanian Red Cross director Jaime Fernandez, adding that the sailors had been given blood and blood pressure tests.
Fernandez said the North Koreans, who reportedly tried to mutiny when Panama stopped their creaky freighter, were in moderately comfortable quarters pending an investigation.
"It is a room that has been outfitted for them. They have a place to smoke, they have air conditioning. They're not in a five-star hotel but for the situation they are in, they're OK," he added.
"They are all in the room watching television. And none of them has reported that they were uncomfortable," said Fernandez.
The crew of the North Korea-flagged Chong Chon Gang face arms trafficking charges after missile and other weapons parts, as well as two Soviet-era fighter planes, were seized.
They face a maximum of six years in prison.
"We have drawn up their charges, and they all chose to remain silent as is their right," prosecutor Javier Caraballo said last week.
The arms were concealed in a shipment of sugar, and their transfer could constitute a violation of tough UN sanctions on Pyongyang.
Authorities on the Caribbean side of the Panama Canal boarded the vessel July 10 because they suspected it might be moving illegal drugs.
Instead they found undeclared Soviet-era missile equipment and planes.
Cuba has claimed the shipment on the Chong Chon Gang consists of "obsolete" weapons it was sending to North Korea to be refurbished and returned.
Panama is awaiting the arrival on August 5 of the UN Security Council team it requested to evaluate the weapons it intercepted, and determine if Pyongyang and Havana have violated UN weapons sanctions.
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