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Seoul seizes ship breaking North’s oil sanctions

Dec 30,2017
A Hong Kong-flagged vessel chartered by a Taiwanese company transferred 600 tons of refined oil products to a North Korean ship last October in international waters, violating United Nations Security Council sanctions forbidding ship-to-ship transfers to or from North Korea, Seoul said Friday.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said authorities seized the Hong Kong vessel, the Lighthouse Winmore, after it entered the port of Yeosu, South Jeolla, on the southern tip of the country last month, and has since been investigating the illegal transfer.

Whether or not the shipment actually arrived in North Korea is not known.

The ministry said it will report the case to the UN Security Council’s sanctions committee on North Korea upon wrapping up its investigation, which also involves the Korea Customs Service.

According to a senior Foreign Ministry official who briefed local reporters on the condition of anonymity, the Lighthouse Winmore, chartered by Taiwanese company Billion Bunker Group Cooperation, initially entered Yeosu Port on Oct. 11 with 23 Chinese and two Burmese on board and loaded nearly 14,039 tons of refined petroleum products from Japan. It left on the morning of Oct. 15, officially informing South Korean customs authorities that it was headed for Taiwan.

But officials from the Korea Customs Service said the vessel was ordered by the Taiwanese company to transfer its load to three other ships chartered by the same company on Oct. 19 in international waters near the East China Sea, about 3,500 tons each.

A separate load of 600 tons was given to a North Korean vessel, the Sam Jong 2, in the same area.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry official said the government had kept an eye out on the shady transfer through “several routes,” some from the United States, and seized the Lighthouse Winmore when it returned to Yeosu on Nov. 24.

The seizure was based on UN Security Council Resolution 2397, passed on Dec. 22, which authorizes member states to seize, inspect and freeze any vessel in their ports if it has reasonable grounds to believe that the vessel was involved in any activities or transport of items prohibited by previously passed resolutions.

It’s the first time Seoul has seized a foreign vessel since those sanctions went into effect, said the Foreign Ministry source.

Resolution 2375, passed on Sept. 11, prohibits any state from facilitating or engaging in ship-to-ship transfers to or from North Korea-flagged vessels of any goods or items that are being supplied, sold or transferred to or from the North.

Lighthouse Winmore and Sam Jong 2 were two among 10 ships that Washington proposed to the UN Security Council last week to blacklist, according to Reuters.

Only four ships, including the Sam Jong 2 but excluding the Lighthouse Winmore, were eventually included in Resolution 2397, supposedly due to a protest from China.

Seoul’s announcement came on the heels of U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent Twitter jab at Beijing, in which he wrote Thursday: “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 if this continues to happen!”

Trump gave no sources for his claim, but South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper cited unidentified South Korean government officials earlier this week as saying that American spy satellites had caught Chinese ships transferring petroleum to North Korean vessels some 30 times since October.

Washington has yet to confirm the report.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]