The North Korean ship "Sosan'' carrying a dozen Scud-type missiles was intercepted about 600 miles east of the Horn of Africa in the Arabian Sea on 10 December. After close tracking by U.S. intelligence after she left the port of Nampo three weeks ago, the Spanish Navy ships "Navarra" (F85), a Santa Maria (Perry) class frigate and "Patino" (A14) replenishment ship stopped the unflagged ship "Sosan'' east of the island of Socotora. The crew had also painted over the North Korean flag on its side once the ship entered the Arabian Sea.
When the "Sosan"s crew refused to identify themselves, the Spaniards fired several warning shots to bring her to a halt and then boarded her. The "Sosan"s North Korean captain initially told Spanish officers that his ship was carrying cement, but a dozen short- to medium-range missiles and missile parts were discovered during a search. Although type-unspecified, the missiles are the same type as used by Iraq to attack both Saudi Arabia and Israel during the Persian Gulf War.
The ship was being held in the area while the search continued, with U.S. ordnance experts boarding the vessel to make sure that any explosive materials were neutralized. Although the ship was headed for Yemen, it was unclear whether it (and the missiles onboard) had another destination beyond that. U.S. officials initially said there was no indication the ship was headed to Iraq and some theorized that she could have been heading for the Horn of Africa. The Spanish ships had been part of the multinational anti-terrorism fleet patrolling the area, since the volume of commercial shipping flowing through the Bab el Mandeb strait that links the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea make that lawless region particularly important to the West.
North Korea had also shipped missiles and red fuming nitric acid (an oxidizing agent used in Scud missile fuel) to Yemen from their port of Nampo in mid-November. That freighter had been under surveillance for several weeks by U.S. intelligence assets. The shipment was part of a deal between Yemen and North Korea for Scud missiles that was made public earlier in 2002. The U.S. imposed economic sanctions against North Korea in August after the first missile transfer. The U.S. government protested the missile sale (arranged during the Clinton administration) and the Sana'a government promised not to purchase additional missiles.
While the 10 December intercept was simply a cargo ship, Newsmax.com has reported that rogue nations or proxy terrorist groups could hide Soviet-made SCUD or North Korean-made "No Dong" missiles inside commercial ships to launch a surprise attack against U.S. coastal cities. Ships equipped to fire hidden missiles may be able to approach unnoticed within a few miles of the U.S. coastline and attack major East or West Coast cities with little or no warning.
At the beginning of December, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz stated that U.S. intelligence satellites had observed a hostile foreign power testing of a ship-based ballistic missile system. However, Wolfowitz refused to identify the nation involved and only described an "outlaw state" developing a ship-launched missile capability.
North Korea has built and exported at least two Scud-type missiles: the Scud B and the "No Dong" (or Scud D). Scud B missiles were produced in large numbers by the former Soviet Union and ended up in Iraq and North Korea, among other nations. The missiles are very inaccurate, often break up in flight and have a range of less than 200 miles. The North Korean Scud D is advanced, when compared to the Scud B. It has a range of about 840 miles and can carry a conventional, chemical or nuclear warhead. Iran and Pakistan use modified "No Dongs", with Pakistan's able to carry nuclear warheads. - Adam Geibel