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North demands return of ship

Pyongyang’s Foreign Ministry says seizure violated June 12 deal

May 15,2019
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday aggressively demanded the United States return one of its cargo ships impounded by Washington for carrying shipments banned by United Nations (UN) sanctions.

The ship, called Wise Honest, was seized by the Indonesian government in April 2018 and was towed by the U.S. Coast Guard to a port in the U.S. territory of American Samoa on Saturday after the Treasury Department filed a civil asset forfeiture action on the vessel.

In a Korean-language press statement on Tuesday, a spokesman of North Korea’s Foreign Ministry condemned the U.S. impounding of the ship as a “brazen and illegal act of theft” that violated the fundamental spirit of the June 12 agreement signed by the two countries’ leaders in Singapore.

“The United States should consider the consequences of their thieving actions on future developments and return our ship without delay,” the statement read, adding that the North would be watching Washington’s subsequent moves closely.

Arguing that the “era in which the United States used to move the world according to its will is long past,” the statement added that the seizure of its ship was a blatant violation of international law that testified to Washington’s impudence in subjecting other sovereign countries to its laws.

Claiming that Pyongyang saw the act as an extension of the U.S. “maximum pressure” campaign to bend the North to its will, the statement went on to say that “there is no greater folly than if [the United States] thinks we are one of those countries that acts on the basis of its logic of power.”

Tuesday’s statement by North Korea’s Foreign Ministry is one of the most critical of official messages toward the United States from Pyongyang since the collapse of the second summit between the two countries in Hanoi, Vietnam, last February.

Since then, the North has leveled a variety of attacks on Washington and Seoul through state media, coupled with its recent military provocations in the form of short-range missile launches on May 4 and last Friday.

While the country has threatened consequences unless the vessel is returned, it looks unlikely that the United States will comply to such a demand, as the seizure of the ship - one of the biggest among the North’s cargo fleet - was Washington’s first impounding of a North Korean vessel on the suspicion of violating UN sanctions.

The forfeiture complaint filed by the U.S. Treasury Department on the ship alleged that the Wise Honest was “one of the principal vessels used” in a scheme by the sanctioned Korea Songi General Trading Corporation and one of its main representatives Kwon Chol-nam to export natural resources like coal on behalf of the North Korean government.

According to NK News, a media outlet focusing on North Korea, the vessel was carrying a coal shipment worth around $2.99 million when it was detained by Indonesia.

UN Security Council Resolution 2371, adopted in response to the North’s two intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests in July 2017, bans the export of materials like coal, iron, lead and seafood by the North.

Resolution 2397 from December 2017 requires member states to seize and impound ships found smuggling banned items to and from North Korea.

The Treasury Department complaint also said that the Wise Honest, as well as a number of other involved vessels, were also used to bring back large shipments of heavy machinery into North Korea in exchange for the coal.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]


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