In August, the US sent a secret message to Egypt regarding a mysterious North Korean vessel carrying unknown cargo that was supposed to travel through the Suez Canal. Local custom agents raided the ship when it entered Egyptian waters and found 30,000 rocket-propelled grenades hidden onboard.

North Korean military (archive)

North Korean military (archive) Photo Credit: Reuters/Channel 2 News

A North Korean weapons ship was seized by the Egyptian authorities in August, the Washington Post reported on Monday. According to the report, Washington sent a secret message to Cairo regarding a North Korean vessel with unknown cargo that was supposed to travel through the Suez Canal. Egyptian custom agents were waiting for the mysterious vessel when it entered the country’s territorial waters. The agents raided the ship and discovered 30,000 rocket-propelled grenades hidden onboard. The ship’s secret destination has not been uncovered yet but according to UN investigators, the buyers are likely Egyptians.

The UN investigators described the discovery as the “largest seizure of ammunition in the history of sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” The UN investigation revealed that Egyptian businessmen likely purchased the rockets from North Korea for the country’s army while working to cover up the transaction. According to Western diplomats and UN officials, the incident resulted in serious complaints made by Washington in private against Egypt due to the latter’s secret relations with Pyongyang, which violate the international sanctions on North Korea’s military industry.

The Egyptian Embassy in Washington issued a statement, claiming that Cairo will cooperate with the UN regarding the matter: “Egypt will continue to abide by all Security Council resolutions and will always be in conformity with these resolutions as they restrain military purchases from North Korea.”

US officials confirmed that the shipment was seized only after Washington relayed intelligence to Egypt, which left Cairo with no choice but to take action. The sources who spoke with the Washington Post said that the incident is among the reasons the Trump administration decided to suspend the military aid to Egypt.

The shipment is worth an estimated $23 million but it is still unclear whether North Korea ever received the payment for the goods. Despite Washington’s attempts to pressure Pyongyang through economic sanctions, North Korea continues to sell cheap conventional weapons to several countries: Syria, Cuba, Burma, Iran, Eritrea and apparently also Egypt, one of America’s allies in the Middle East.