US seizes North Korean coal ship for violating sanctions
10 May 2019
The United States on Thursday seized a North Korean cargo ship, accusing it of violating international sanctions, in a move that would escalate tensions already on the rise because of recent North Korean weapons tests.
The North Korean ship was violating American law and international sanctions, the Justice Department said, adding that the vessel was used to transport coal, North Korea's largest export which is now subject to a UN export ban.
The vessel was earlier impounded by foreign maritime authorities in Indonesia April 2018 when it was carrying $3m of coal.
It is the first time the US has seized a North Korean ship for breaching sanctions and comes amid worsening relations between the two.
The North Korean ship, the Wise Honest, is now in the custody of the US.
"Our office uncovered North Korea's scheme to export tons of high-grade coal to foreign buyers by concealing the origin of their ship, the Wise Honest," said US attorney Geoffrey S Berman.
With the US insisting that North Korea give up its nuclear programme and Pyongyang demanding sanctions relief, a meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump ended without agreement in February.
North Korea has went ahead with fresh weapon tests over the past w weeks in a bid to force the United States make further concessions
The US Special Representative on North Korea Stephen Biegun is currently in South Korea to discuss ways of getting the denuclearisation talks back on track.
"This scheme not only allowed North Korea to evade sanctions, but the Wise Honest was also used to import heavy machinery to North Korea, helping expand North Korea's capabilities and continuing the cycle of sanctions evasion."
Payments for the maintenance of the Wise Honest were allegedly made in US dollars through unsuspecting US banks - giving the US authorities the opportunity to mount an unusual civil forfeiture legal action.
FBI Assistant Director William Sweeney Jr said the seizure should serve as a signal that the US would not allow foreign adversaries to use its financial systems to fund weapons programs which will be used to threaten the country.