South’s ship impounded for sanctions busting

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South’s ship impounded for sanctions busting


A South Korean cargo vessel suspected of illicitly transferring oil to a North Korean ship is impounded at a shipyard in Busan Harbor. [YONHAP]

A South Korean cargo vessel has been impounded in Busan Harbor since last October on suspicions of violating international sanctions on North Korea, a Foreign Ministry official said Tuesday.

This is the first time a ship flying the South Korean flag has been accused of breaking United Nations Security Council sanctions imposed on the North for its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

According to the official, the ship, named Lunis, was one of four held in South Korean ports since October for having allegedly transferred banned petroleum products or coal to or from North Korean ships. The other three vessels are reportedly registered in Togo, Hong Kong and Panama.

The shipping company working with the South Korean vessel has admitted to a transfer of refined oil to a tanker from the North through a ship-to-ship operation, the official said.

All four ships, including the Lunis, were among dozens of foreign vessels named in a U.S. Treasury Department report released March 21 for allegedly having engaged in such illicit transfers of oil or coal to or from North Korean vessels.

For a South Korean ship to engage in such an act violates not only the UN sanctions as defined in Security Council Resolution 2397, which almost entirely bans the supply of crude or refined oil to the North, but also Seoul’s own inter-Korean cooperation law that defines the parameters of exchanges between the two Koreas.

The government has launched an investigation into the alleged sanctions infringement and has banned the ship from leaving Busan Harbor since October to find evidence of the transshipment. It is not known why South Korea took so long to make the announcement, but a provision in Resolution 2397 gives member states six months to decide how to deal with violators of sanctions.

“The government has done its part as a responsible member of the international community by faithfully implementing the UN Security Council sanctions resolutions on the North and has carefully monitored any related activities in violation of those resolutions,” said the Foreign Ministry official. “Authorities are looking into the domestically registered vessel and we are discussing the application of [a punishment provision defined in] the resolutions.”

According to the official, the Lunis was built in 2000, is 100 meters (328 feet) long, 19 meters wide and can carry 7,850 tons of crude oil.

It is yet unknown how much refined oil was transferred to the North Korean tanker or how the oil was paid for. If a ruling is made on the transfer, the South Korean ship could be blacklisted by the UN.

According to a much-publicized UN report from last month, North Korea has been actively evading sanctions through such ship-to-ship transfers of fuel products, as well as by allegedly supplying arms to countries in the Middle East and importing luxury goods like cars and alcohol.

A report published Monday on the North Korea-monitoring website 38 North elaborated on sanctions violations by Pyongyang, alleging that the country was continuing to export coal via land and sea, based on satellite footage of its ports in Rajin and Nampo, as well as rail yards in Sinuiju and near the Tumen River.

Also on the U.S. Treasury Department’s list of suspected violators from last month were a Russian ship and a number of ships with Chinese names, though it was not known where they were registered. On the same day the report was released, the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control placed sanctions on two Chinese shipping companies while urging maritime companies worldwide to crack down on North Korea’s illicit practices.

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