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Four ships banned for smuggling North’s coal

Aug 13,2018
The South Korean government has banned the entry of four ships to local ports after they were found to have smuggled North Korean coal into the country last year in violation of international sanctions, announced Seoul’s Foreign Ministry Sunday.

Speaking to reporters on the condition of anonymity, an official at the ministry said the ban went into effect last Saturday, a day after the Korea Customs Service announced the results of an internal investigation that found seven cases of illegal imports of North Korean coal and pig iron from April to October 2017, which were shipped into five different South Korean ports.

Last Friday, the customs agency explained that traders shipped North Korean resources into the South by going through various Russian ports and declaring them of Russian origin. The shady practice goes against United Nations Security Council Resolution 2371, which was unanimously adopted on Aug. 5, 2017 at the height of Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile provocations and imposed a ban on the export of North Korean resources including coal, iron, lead and seafood.

The total amount of North Korean coal and iron imported to South Korea from April to October 2017 was 35,028 tons, worth some 6.6 billion won ($5.86 million), the customs authority said.

The four ships that have been forbidden from entering South Korean ports are the Panama-registered Sky Angel, Sierra Leone-registered Rich Glory and the Belize-registered Shining Rich and Jin Long, all of which, according to the Foreign Ministry official, shipped banned North Korean resources into the South after Resolution 2371 went into effect. Three other ships that brought banned materials from the North last year did so before the ban was imposed, the official continued.

The official said Seoul was planning to report the results of its findings to the UN Security Council within this week at the earliest. Washington has already been briefed on the matter, said the official, who added that the country spoke “highly” of South Korea’s investigation and its handling of the outcome.

The illicit coal imports first came to light in late June, when a panel of UN experts wrote in a report that North Korean coal shipped to the Russian port of Kholmsk was reloaded on two vessels that entered the South Korean ports of Incheon and Pohang in North Gyeongsang after the UN Security Council’s comprehensive coal ban went into effect.

Seoul’s Foreign Ministry opened an investigation into the illegal imports in cooperation with customs authorities. The Korea Customs Service announced last week that traders appeared to have smuggled North Korean coal and iron into the South in light of the fact that their prices dramatically dropped after the ban went into force.

The customs service said it would press criminal charges against local individuals and companies for engaging in economic exchanges with the North last year, in light of South Korea’s so-called May 24 measures, which went into effect in 2010 after the North torpedoed a South Korean naval vessel earlier that year, killing 46 sailors.

Without naming them, the customs office said it asked prosecutors to indict three executives and their companies on violations of importing North Korean coal or forging documents to hide its North Korean origin.

The coal came from the North Korean ports of Songlim, Chongjin, Daean and Wonsan, and was transshipped via the Russian ports of Vladivostok and Kholmsk.

The Korea South-East Power, a subsidiary of the state-run Korea Electric Power Corporation, was the only domestic company called out by the customs service last week, but the authority said it won’t be criminally charged because the company appeared not to have known about the coal’s origin when it purchased - and eventually used all of - the North Korean imports.

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