After we reported yesterday that South Korean authorities had seized a ship suspected of illegally delivering oil to North Korea via clandestine ship-to-ship transfers, Reuters reported Sunday that the South also seized a Panama-flagged vessel suspected of violating UN sanctions restricting oil sales to North Korea.
The seizure was the second to be revealed by South Korea within a few days, as the United Nations steps up efforts to squeeze essential oil supplies to the reclusive North following its nuclear or ballistic missile tests.
The ship, the KOTI, was seized at Pyeongtaek-Dangjin port, the official told Reuters, without elaborating, due to the sensitivity of the issue. The port is on South Korea’s west coast, south of Incheon.
A marine official also confirmed the seizure, which he said was done “recently”. The KOTI’s estimated time of arrival at the port was Dec. 19, according to VesselFinder Ltd., a tracking service provider. The ship can carry 5,100 tonnes of oil and has a crew mostly from China and Myanmar, Yonhap News Agency reported, adding that South Korea’s intelligence and customs officials are conducting a joint probe into the vessel.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed the probe, declining to provide details.
“The government has been in close consultations with related countries and ministries to thoroughly implement the sanctions by the U.N. Security Council,” the spokesman said.
As we reported yesterday, South Korean intelligence officials revealed that in late November the South Korean government seized the Hong Kong-flagged Lighthouse Winmore, which was suspected of transferring as much as 600 tons of oil to the North Korea-flagged Sam Jong 2. Satellite images released by the US Treasury Department purport to show the Winmore making the illegal oil transfers.
The Lighthouse Winmore is one of the 10 ships proposed to be blacklisted. The KOTI isn’t on the list.
The US has also proposed that the United Nations Security Council blacklist 10 ships for transporting banned items from North Korea. Such a ban would require all UN members to refuse harbor to the ships. But China, which has permanent veto power on the Security Council, is pushing back, saying it would only accept sanctions against four of the proposed 10 ships.
As we reported earlier, Russian tankers have also reportedly supplied fuel to North Korean ships on at least three occasions in recent months by transferring cargoes at sea in violation of UN sanctions.
Ship-to-ship trade with North Korea at sea is prohibited under the round of UN sanctions adopted on Sept. 11. A subsequent round of sanctions aimed at restricting the North Korean energy trade was passed earlier this month.
Despite being caught “red-handed” – in the words of US President Donald Trump - China has denied reports it has been illicitly selling oil products to North Korea in defiance of UN sanctions.
“The situation you have mentioned absolutely does not exist,” a spokesman for Beijing said in response to Reuters’ questions about the oil sales.