South Korean authorities seized a Hong Kong tanker after it was found to have secretly transferred 600 tons of refined petroleum to a North Korean vessel in international waters in October, in a brazen breach of UN sanctions.
Acting on intelligence provided by the US – including surveillance photos of an exchange taken by satellite – South Korean customs officials boarded the vessel, the Lighthouse Winmore, when it entered Yeosu Port on November 24, Yonhap news reported.
The investigation has so far determined that the ship was chartered by a Taiwanese company, Billions Bunker Group, and had initially docked in Yeosu Port on October 11 to take on a cargo of Japanese refined petroleum before going on to its final declared destination of Taiwan four days later.
After leaving port, however, the Hong Kong ship met up with the Sam Jong 2, a 2,507-ton North Korean tanker, and three other unnamed ships in international waters in the East China Sea.
Under United Nations Security Council resolution 2375, which was adopted in September, companies or organizations of member states are not permitted to carry out the ship-to-ship transfer of any goods that are bound for North Korea.
“This marks a typical case of North Korea shrewdly circumventing UN Security Council sanctions by using its illegal networks”, a South Korean Foreign Ministry official said.
The Sam Jong 2 was one of four North Korean-flagged ships that were named by the UN on Thursday as being banned from entering foreign ports on suspicion that they are transporting goods that are prohibited under international sanctions designed to curtail Pyongyang’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The seizure of the vessel underlines the lengths to which the North Korean government is going to evade sanctions, as well as hinting at the impact they are having on the regime.
On Thursday, Chinese officials were forced to deny reports that Chinese ships had carried out similar trans-shipments of fuel at sea to North Korean vessels after the US released images from satellites showing the Rye Song Gang 1 connected to a Chinese tanker by hoses.
South Korean officials told the Chosun Ilbo newspaper that satellites had identified similar ship-to-ship transfers on 30 occasions since October.
Asked at a regular briefing in Beijing on Thursday whether Chinese ships were contravening the UN sanctions by providing oil to the North, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry stated that China strictly enforces UN resolutions on North Korea.
“The situation you have mentioned absolutely does not exist”, Reuters quoted Ren Guoqiang as saying. He declined to comment further on the issue.
State-run media has not reported on the claims, or on President Donald Trump’s accusation that Beijing is permitting oil to flow into North Korea.
The US leader on Thursday tweeted, “Caught RED HANDED – very disappointed that China is allowing oil to go into North Korea. There will never be a friendly solution to the North Korea problem is this continues to happen!”
Source: Telegraph UK