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North Korea’s coal smuggled into South via Russian port

July 19,2018
South Korean authorities have opened an investigation into a UN panel’s finding that North Korea transhipped over 9,000 tons of coal, disguised as Russian exports, to South Korean ports in Incheon and Pohang, North Gyeongsang, last October.

According to a recent United Nations panel of experts report, North Korean coal shipped to the Russian port of Kholmsk was reloaded on two vessels that entered South Korea’s Incheon and Pohang ports and arrived after the UN Security Council’s comprehensive coal ban was implemented in August last year.

The panel’s findings, released on June 27, updating a March report, said the coal was shipped from North Korea’s eastern port of Wonsan in Kangwon Province and Chongjin in North Hamgyong Province to Kholmsk on Russia’s Sakhalin Island on six occasions between July and September 2017.

The Panama-flagged Sky Angel ship was found to have carried some 4,156 tons of North Korean coal from Kholmsk to Incheon, which it entered on Oct. 2.

The Sierra Leone-registered Rich Glory shipped 5,000 tons of North Korean coal, estimated to be worth some $325,000, according to the report, from Kholmsk to Pohang on Oct. 11.

The 15-member United Nations Security Council imposed a ban on North Korean coal exports, along with exports of iron, lead and seafood, in Resolution 2371, unanimously adopted on Aug. 5, 2017, in response to Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile provocations.

The UN panel of experts found North Korea to have exported almost all the commodities prohibited in the Security Council resolutions, generating nearly $200 million in revenue between January and September 2017. It also found the North was continuing illicit coal exports, combining “deceptive navigation patterns, signals manipulation, transshipment and fraudulent documentation to obscure the origin of the coal.”

The panel’s report pointed out that North Korea adopted in July 2017 “a new route to a port rarely visited previously, Kholmsk,” following the adoption of Resolution 2371.

Its data showed four vessels, including the North Korea-flagged Ul Ji Bong 6, Rung Ra 2 and Un Bong 2 and the Togo-flagged Yu Yuan, called at Kholmsk port, and, citing a UN member state, said they were transporting coal from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the official name of North Korea.

The report noted that the coal for Sky Angel was loaded at the same terminal at which coal had been discharged by North Korea’s Rung Ra 2, Un Bong 2, Ul Ji Bong 6 and Yu Yuan vessels. It also pointed out that the Panama-flagged Sky Lady ship had the same operator as Sky Angel, and that the vessels used the same berth on Aug. 9.

Seoul said it has opened an investigation into the shipments in cooperation with customs authorities.

“Our government has been taking necessary diplomatic efforts to closely cooperate with the international community and the [UN Security Council] Sanctions Committee on the faithful implementation of UN sanctions resolution on North Korea,” said Noh Kyu-duk, spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Seoul Tuesday, following reports of the illegal coal shipment entering South Korean ports. He added, “Our authorities are investigating this issue.”

Noh also clarified that South Korean authorities had been aware of these North Korean coal shipment prior to the release of the UN panel of experts’ report.

“In both cases, the import declarations and registration process was completed and the coal was transferred before the government was informed and involved,” said a South Korean Foreign Ministry official, explaining why the North Korean ships haven’t been seized or detained.

He added that the South Korean importers of the coal were being investigated for violating customs laws.

Voice of America (VOA) reported Wednesday that the Sky Angel and Rich Glory vessels were actually run by Chinese companies, citing safety inspection data by the Port State Control Committee in the Asia-Pacific Region.

The data indicated that the Panama and Sierra Leone-registered ships were operated by companies with addresses in Dalian, a port city in China’s northeastern Liaoning Province.

The Korea JoongAng Daily also confirmed through shipping inspection data from the Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control in the Asia-Pacific Region, or Tokyo MOU, that Sky Angel was operated by Dalian Sky Ocean International Shipping Agency, whose address was in Zhongshan District in Dalian, Liaoning Province, China.

Likewise, Rich Glory was operated by Sanhe Marine, with an address in Shahekou District in Dalian.

Both companies had telephone and fax numbers starting with China’s country code, 86.

Rich Glory docked at Incheon port and was inspected on Feb. 2 this year, according to the data. Similarly, while inspected mostly in Vladivostok, Russia, Sky Angel entered the Port of Gunsan in South Korea on Feb. 21.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]