Colombia detains China-flagged ship for illegal arms transport

BOGOTA - Colombian authorities detained a China-flagged ship traveling to Cuba for illegally transporting around 100 tonnes of gunpowder and other materials used to make explosives and arrested the captain, the attorney general's office said.

The vessel was stopped on Saturday in the northern port of Cartagena, on the Caribbean coast, after the materials were detected during inspection. The cargo was listed in the ship's records as grain products.

"Around 100 tonnes of powder, 2.6 million detonators, 99 projectiles and around 3,000 cannon shells were found," Luis Gonzalez, the national director of the attorney general's office, told reporters.

Cargo documentation the captain presented did not match the load the ship was found to be carrying, Gonzalez said. Photographs from the prosecutor's office showed wooden cases inside a shipping container with labels stating Chinese defence manufacturer Norinco as the supplier.

The recipient was stated as importer Tecnoimport in the Cuban capital Havana. Neither company could be immediately reached for comment.

The ship's captain, Wu Hong, will be brought before a judge in order to be detained pending charges, and has been provided with an interpreter. Officials said he could be charged with illegal transport of military materials.

The attorney general's office did not release any further information about the ship or its crew.

A North Korean ship was detained in the Caribbean region in July 2013, near the Panama canal, when it was found to be carrying Soviet-era weapons from Cuba including two MiG-21 jet fighters, hidden under thousands of tonnes of sugar.

The United States and the UN both blacklisted two shipping companies which they said tried to hide the arms shipments destined for North Korea. Panama freed the ship and 32 crew to sail back to Cuba a year ago after most of a $1 million fine was paid.