South Korea Seizes Ship Suspected Of Smuggling 37,200 Barrels Of Oil To North Korea Amid UN Sanctions

South Korean authorities have seized a Panama-flagged vessel suspected of providing oil to North Korea despite strict UN sanctions.

David GuttenfelderAP Images

South Korean authorities have seized a ship that has been suspected of transferring oil to North Korea amid UN sanctions. According to a South Korean customs official, the Panama-flagged KOTI ship was seized at Pyeongtaek-Dangjin port, according to CNBC News.

The DPRK relies heavily on imported fuel to keep its struggling economy afloat. Oil is also required for North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear program. A program that the US says is a threat to peace in Asia.

On November 29, North Korea boasted that they had successfully tested a new ICBM that would place U.S. mainland within close range of their deadly nuclear weapons.

The KOTI ship’s date of arrival of December 19 was calculated thanks to VesselFinder, tracking service. The port in which the KOTI ship was placed at sea resides on the west coast, which is just south of Incheon. This is the second ship that has been seized and it could carry 5,100 metric tons (about 37,213 barrels) of oil. It was reported by the Yonhap news agency that the crew aboard that was mostly from China and Myanmar.

South Korea said on Friday that they seized the Lighthouse Winmore in November. The Hong-Kong-flagged vessel was suspected of transferring about 600 tons of oil to Sam Jong 2, a North Korean-flagged ship.

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Additional confirmation was made by a marine official who said that the seizure was done “recently.”

Currently, South Korea’s intelligence and customs officials are both conducting a joint investigation into the vessel. A Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed the probe, but they have declined to provide further details on the matter.

“The government has been in close consultations with related countries and ministries to thoroughly implement the sanctions by the U.N. Security Council.”

China supplied most of North Korea’s crude oil. The country no longer reports its oil shipments. However, according to South Korean data, China supplies North Korea with roughly 500,000 tonnes of crude oil each year, according to Reuters. UN data has reported that China also exports over 200,000 tonnes of oil products.

North Korea oil smuggle
Featured image credit: Mark LennihanAP Images

Nearly 90 percent of the refined petroleum exported to North Korea will be banned by a cap of 500,000 barrels a year. In addition to this, the UN will also cap crude oil supplies to North Korea at four million barrels per year.

The UN Security Council applied the latest sanctions as a response to Pyongyang’s recent intercontinental ballistic missile tests. The sanctions sought to limit the access of petrol products and oil, in addition to its earnings from workers across the world, according to BBC.

It was also proposed by the United States that the United Nations Security Council blacklist ten ships for transporting banned items from North Korea. The Lighthouse Winmore is one of the ships that was proposed to be blacklisted. Currently, the KOTI vessel does not seem to be included in the list.

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On Thursday, China blocked efforts by the U.S. at the United Nations to blacklist six foreign-flagged ships, according to a UN Security Council diplomat. China has denied reports that the country has been illicitly selling oil products to North Korea.

On at least three occasions, Russian tankers have supplied fuel to North Korea in recent months by transferring cargoes at sea, according to an anonymous security source as per Reuters. The act is considered a breach of the UN sanctions.

“The Russian vessels made transfers at sea to the North Koreans.”

However, it was reported by a second source that the Russian state has no evidence of involvement in the transfers.

Further reductions of exports to North Korea will take place if another nuclear test or launch of an ICBM is carried out.