South Korea Seizes Two Ships for Violating Sanctions

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On Friday, South Korean authorities announced that they have seized the product tanker Lighthouse Winmore for allegedly violating UN prohibitions on ship-to-ship transfers with North Korean vessels.

The Chinese-owned Winmore – allegedly operating under charter to Taiwan-based Billions Bunker Group – loaded 14,000 tons of petroleum product at the South Korean port of Yeosu on October 11. On October 15, she got under way for Taiwan. However, Korean officials assert that she made four high-seas transfers to other vessels during her voyage, including a 600-ton transfer to the North Korean ship Sam Jong 2 on October 19.

South Korean customs officials boarded the Winmore and questioned her crew upon the vessel’s return to Yeosu on November 24. They formally seized the Winmore in late December after the Security Council passed a new resolution requiring the detention of vessels involved in North Korean sanctions violations.

Most of the Winmore’s 25 crewmembers are Chinese nationals, and they will be allowed to return home after the investigation is complete. In a Twitter message, U.S. president Donald Trump accused China of “allowing oil to go into North Korea” and asserted that Beijing had been “caught RED HANDED.” In a statement, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying denied the charge, saying that China will “never allow Chinese citizens and enterprises to engage in activities that violate Security Council resolutions.

On December 31, South Korea seized a second ship suspected of the ship-to-ship transfer of oil to a North Korean vessel, in violation of international sanctions.

The Panama-flagged tanker, Koti, was seized at Pyeongkaek-Dangjin port, on South Korea’s west coast. The ship has capacity for 5,100 tons of oil and has a crew mostly from China and Myanmar, according to local media reports.

North Korea faces international sanctions for its missile testing, and the United Nations is stepping up its efforts to monitor oil deliveries to the nation. New sanctions were imposed last month designed to limit its access to refined petroleum products and crude oil.

South Korea’s foreign ministry issued a statement saying it is “closely monitoring the North’s movement to evade sanctions, while we are closely discussing with related countries and offices to thoroughly carry out UN Security Council resolutions.”

The U.S. has already called on the United Nations Security Council to blacklist 10 ships for violating sanctions. More blacklisting is expected, asReuters reports sources saying that Russian tankers have supplied fuel to North Korea via ship-to-ship transfer on at least three occasions in recent months.

U.S. President Donald Trump has warned that such activities could undermine the chances of a peaceful resolution to North Korea’s missile program. The Trump administration has indicated concern that China is interpreting sanctions in a manner that allows for partial violation, something that China denies.

China’s President Xi Jinping said on New Year’s Eve that China will uphold the United Nations’ authority and status, and fulfill its international duties and that his country will always be a builder of world peace.

Sea News, January 1