Syrian Missiles
Missiles seen at a Syrian air defense base after Free Syrian Army fighters seized the base, in eastern Ghouta, on the eastern edge of Damascus REUTERS

A Chinese ship en route to Syria was caught in May carrying a shipment of ballistic missile parts suspected to have originated in North Korea, in what appears to have been a breach of the U.N. sanctions, news agencies reported Wednesday citing diplomats with knowledge of the matter.

South Korean officials confiscated the Syria-bound cargo of 445 graphite cylinders, which had been declared as lead piping, from a Chinese vessel called the Xin Yan Tai, the U.N. Security Council diplomats told Reuters on condition of anonymity. The cylinders could be used for rocket nozzles and for re-entry vehicle nose tips.

"It appears the cylinders were intended for Syria's missile program," a diplomat told Reuters. "China assured us they will investigate what looks like a violation of U.N. sanctions."

It was possible that the crew of the Chinese ship had been unaware about the contents of the shipment, another diplomat told Reuters.

The cargo, intended for Electric Parts, a Syrian company with North Korean links, was seized at the South Korean port of Busan, according to the report.

If the suspicion over the origin of the shipment is confirmed, Pyongyang stands the risk of violating the U.N. bans on trading military and weapons-related materials, imposed successively since 2006 after nuclear tests by the North Korean regime.

The finding was included in a report prepared by a panel of experts from the five permanent members of the Security Council as well as Japan and South Korea. It was submitted this month to the members of a special committee that is in charge of overseeing the implementation of the sanctions imposed on North Korea, Japan’s Kyodo news agency said.

The ship, registered in Shanghai, was built in 2005 and is owned by a Shanghai shipping company, Kyodo said, citing the China Classification Society of vessels.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said that China strictly followed the U.N. resolutions and its own non-proliferation export controls.

"China will handle behavior that violates relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions and China's laws and regulations according to the law," he was quoted as saying by Reuters.