USA seizes North Korean coal ship for violating sanctions


A North Korean ship used to transport coal was seized by the United States after the country violated U.N. sanctions by firing two suspected short-range missiles.

USA officials took control of the Wise Honest after determining it was in violation of United Nations sanctions.

Loaded down with a $3 million shipment of North Korean coal, the vessel had entered Indonesian waters with its AIS tracking transponder turned off and was operating under two registrations, North Korea and Sierra Leone.

Demers, in a statement on May 9, said the "sanctions-busting ship is now out of service". Nuclear-armed North Korea launched four ballistic missiles on March 6 in another challenge to President Donald Trump, with three landing provocatively close to America's ally Japan. On Thursday, the Justice Department asked a federal judge to give the US ownership of the vessel through a civil forfeiture action.

USA officials say payments for maintenance and equipment for the ship were made unwittingly in American dollars through US banks.

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The captain was arrested and charged with "knowingly hoisting a false flag", according to UN Security Council documents.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said this is the first time a North Korean cargo ship was seized for violating global sanctions.

"North Korea seemed to be discontented it could not reach a deal in Hanoi", South Korean President Moon Jae-in told broadcaster KBS.

Experts have said that to evade sanctions, North Korea conducts its illicit trading with a fleet of ghost ships that paint false names on their hulls, steal identification numbers from other vessels and execute their trades via ship-to-ship transfers at sea, to avoid prying eyes at ports.

In that case, investigators are probing whether a Hong Kong corporation may have helped North Korea evade sanctions.

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Court papers filed in federal court in NY said shipments by the Wise Honest and other North Korean vessels "provide a critical source of revenue for DPRK-based companies and for the North Korean government". The summit failed, however, with North Korea pinning the blame on Washington. It was not immediately clear what happened to the rest of the crew, which at least at one time totalled two dozen members.

It's unclear precisely when the ship was seized by the U.S., but a warrant for the seizure of the M/V Wise Honest was issued by a United States federal judge in July 2018, according to a forfeiture complaint filed in the Southern District of NY. Papers filed in US federal court described its shipments as "a critical source of revenue for DPRK-based companies and for the North Korean government".

Experts say sanctions enforcement is dependent on the willingness of foreign countries to assist in seizures and charges when violations are discovered.

"We're looking at it very seriously right now", Trump said of North Korea missile launch. The move marks an escalation of USA government pressure on Pyongyang, even as President Donald Trump has spoken glowingly about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Enermax denied knowledge of North Korea's involvement in the delivery and said it believed it was purchasing Indonesian coal.

"Nobody's happy about it".

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A government spokesman said that while it wasn't up to the government, as far as May was concerned the matter was now closed. Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick indicated that it would be for ministers to trigger an inquiry.