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Danish Ship Caught Carrying Soviet-Made Weapons

June 18, 1986 GMT

BALBOA, Panama (AP) _ The navy detained a Danish cargo ship that was carrying enough undeclared Soviet-made trucks and weapons to arm at least two army battalions, the deputy commander said Wednesday.

One news report said the 250-ton shipment was being smuggled to leftist guerrillas fighting for power in El Salvador.

Reporters were given a brief tour of the armed forces warehouse in which the contraband was stored affter the 520-ton Pia Vesta was intercepted and detained Saturday.

Lt. Cmdr. Jose Correa, the deputy navy commander, said it consisted of 32 four-wheel-drive military trucks, 1,500 machineguns, disposable rocket launchers and ammunition.

He said the hardware was enough to equip two or three motorized army battalions, depending on their size.

The ship was docked nearby in Balboa, which is at the Panama Canal’s Pacific entrance. The ship’s company was confined aboard pending an investigation, Correa said, but no charges had been filed.

He said he would not object to reporters boarding the ship, but Capt. Johannes Christiansen, 47, would not allow it.

Six of the crewmen are Danes and the seventh, who was taken to a hospital, is Indonesian, the officer said. He did not specify the illness.

Neither Correa nor an armed forces statement issued in Panama City mentioned the Pia Vesta’s destination, but La Estrella de Panama said without attribution that the contraband was intended for leftist guerrillas in El Salvador. The newspaper is independent, but usually reflects the government’s views.

Rebels of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front have been fighting El Salvador’s U.S.-backed government for 6 1/2 years.

The Register of Ships lists the Pia Vesta as belonging to Jorgen Jensen, whom Danish authorities accused of illegally carrying weapons to the government of South Africa in 1981 and 1982. A court hearing in the case is expected this summer.

Navy personnel boarded and searched the Pia Vesta offshore, acting on a tip from Peruvian authorities, and found the contraband when they checked the cargo against a manifest listing only ″rolling stock and spare parts,″ Correa said.

Panamanian law forbids use of the canal by vessels with undeclared cargo, which is automatically considered contraband. Safety regulations require special handling for military and other risky cargoes.

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Correa said Peruvian authorities advised Panama of a possible secret course change by the Pia Vesta, which left the East German port of Rostock and did not show up at the Peruvian port of Callao on schedule. The ship had already passed through the canal once before it changed course.

Christiansen claimed he did not know the real cargo and said he did not call at Callao as scheduled because the owner suddenly ordered him by radio to change course, Correa said.