China defends military items on Chinese cargo ship detained by Colombia

World Today

Chinese military officers arrive at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing Wednesday, March 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)Chinese military officers arrive at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing Wednesday, March 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

China’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that a Chinese ship detained in Colombia on Saturday for allegedly illegally transporting arms was involved in “normal trade cooperation”.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the ship was carrying ordinary military supplies to Cuba and was not in violation of any international obligations.

“To my knowledge, the cargo ship carried general military items China exported to Cuba, and there were no sensitive items,” Hua said.

The Da Dan Xia, operated by Cosco Shipping Co Ltd, China’s largest shipping group, was headed for Cuba when it was stopped on Saturday in the northern port of Cartagena, Colombia, on the Caribbean coast, after the arms were detected during an inspection.

According to Luis Gonzalez, national director of the Colombian attorney general’s office, the 28,451 deadweight-ton cargo ship, was loaded with undeclared military equipment, including about 100 tons of gunpowder, 99 projectile bases and 3,000 artillery cartridge cases. The ship’s captain, Wu Hong, was arrested.

The ship’s documentation “conflicted with what was actually found” aboard, Gonzalez said.

The ship’s records listed its cargo as grain products, Shanghai Daily reported.

The freighter was due to stop in the northern Colombian city of Barranquilla before ending its journey in Havana.

Photographs from the prosecutor’s office showed wooden cases inside a shipping container with labels stating Chinese defense manufacturer China North Industries Group Corp as the supplier. The company, known as Norinco, is China’s biggest arms maker, Shanghai Daily reported.

A company spokesman said the ship was carrying some of its products, which had been sold legally, but that reported details of what was on board were “not true.”

“Some media reports of what the ship was carrying do not accord with the reality of the situation,” he said. “The products we sent over this time were mainly raw materials for the production of bullets. We have always been a responsible international company.”

The recipient was listed as importer Tecnoimport in Havana.

The ship’s captain appeared before a local judge on Tuesday to answer charges of arms trafficking, in order to be detained pending charges. He has been provided an interpreter. Officials said he could be charged with illegal transport of military materials.

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

Story compiled with information from Shanghai Daily, China Daily, and AP reports.