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By Juan O. Tamayo, El Nuevo Herald

A North Korean freighter has run aground near a port in eastern Mexico, just days after a stop in Havana that sparked comparisons with another Pyongyang vessel seized last summer with a large and illegal shipment of Cuban weapons.

The 6,700-ton Mu Du Bong, built in 1983, ran aground Monday on a reef off the port of Tuxpan in the Gulf of Mexico, according to shipping and salvage industry officials. There was no immediate information on whether the freighter docked or planned to dock in Tuxpan.

The ship had sparked suspicions before its mishap because its Caribbean voyage seemed similar to that of the Chong Chon Gang, seized by Panama last summer as it prepared to cross the Panama Canal on its way home to North Korea. An estimated 240 tons of weapons were hidden under hundreds of thousands of sacks of sugar.

Both freighters sailed in Cuban waters and stopped in Havana, but their exact locations were mysteries for days because there were no reports from their location transponders, as required by safety regulations. The Chong Chon Gang had turned off its transponder to hide its location, a U.N. investigation later found.

The Mu Du Bong crossed the Panama Canal into the Caribbean June 15. Its transponder signaled on June 25 that it was near the port of Mariel, and on June 29-30 that it was in the port of Havana, according to an article in Forbes magazine that first reported its voyage.

For the next nine days the freighter’s transponder fell silent, Forbes reported. It started working again July 10, showing the ship was in Havana and then sailed into the Gulf of Mexico, according to Forbes.

AFP Photo/KNS

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