The South Korean government announced that it seized the Lighthouse Winmore, a Hong Kong-flagged tanker carrying Japanese oil, in late November.
The ship, chartered by the Taiwanese company Billions Bunker Group, was loaded with 600 tons of refined Japanese petroleum and supposedly bound for Taiwan when it was originally inspected in the South Korean port of Yeosu in October.
Illicit trade on the high seas
However, it is suspected that the ship actually transferred that load to the awaiting North Korean tanker Sam Jong 2 while in international waters on October 19, after leaving port in Yeosu. North Korea is currently under U.N. Security Council sanctions that prohibit it from importing more than 2 million barrels of refined petroleum annually. Ship-to-ship transfers of any goods are also expressly forbidden by U.N. Security Council Resolution 2375, which was passed in September.
No safe harbor
China, which is one of North Korea’s largest suppliers of oil , announced that it had not sold any oil to Pyongyang for the last two months. Beijing drew the ire of President Trump who accused China of undermining U.N. sanctions, tweeting that it had been “caught red-handed,” and adding he was “very disappointed.” Beijing denied any wrongdoing and said that it would punish any such actions should they be found to have happened. The U.S. has also proposed that the U.N. Security Council blacklist ten ships for conducting illicit trade with North Korea. Should the ships be blacklisted they would not be allowed to enter U.N. member states’ ports.
A spokesman for the South Korean Foreign Ministry, speaking of the accusations ship-to-ship trade, said, “This is one of the main ways in which North Korea uses an illegal network to circumvent U.N. Security Council sanctions.”
Crew in custody
Currently, the crew of the Lighthouse Winmore, which consists of 23 Chinese and two Myanmar nationals, remains in South Korean custody. Seoul says the crew will not be released until authorities have completed their investigation. South Korea intends to inform the U.N. Security Council’s sanctions committee of the findings of that investigation.
This article was originally published on DW.com. Its content is created separately from USA TODAY.
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