US seizes N. Korean coal ship it says violated sanctions

A North Korean cargo ship is seen north of Manila Philippines

US seizes North Korean cargo ship for violating sanctions

USA authorities have seized a North Korean ship used to sell coal in alleged violation of worldwide sanctions, Justice Department officials said Thursday (May 9). Both U.N. and US officials criticized the Indonesian government for failing to properly secure the illegal shipment.

Indonesia said in a letter published by the United Nations that it had noticed the ship's "automatic identification system" was turned off, which could help it avoid detection.

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers called the Wise Honest a "sanctions-busting ship".

North Korea has been subject to numerous United Nations sanctions over the past 10 years for its nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

Justice Department officials on Thursday confirmed that the vessel, the Wise Honest, is approaching U.S. territorial waters in American Samoa, in coordination with the U.S. Marshals Service and the Coast Guard.

Payments for maintenance and equipment for the vessel were made in American dollars through unwitting United States banks, a violation of sanctions that bar North Korean citizens or entities from the USA financial system.

North Korea hasn't actually had control of the ship for more than a year - it was seized in April 2018 by Indonesia.

The ship was first confiscated by foreign maritime authorities in Indonesia last April, carrying $3m of coal.

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"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".

The launch of the projectiles - identified as short-range missiles by the South Korea military - came as a U.S. envoy visited Seoul, across one of the world's most heavily militarised borders. "In return, large shipments of heavy machinery were returned to North Korea using the same vessels".

In addition, U.S. sanctions have aimed to lock the country out of the global banking system by preventing banks with United States arms from dealing with North Korean businesses.

In that case, investigators are probing whether a Hong Kong corporation may have helped North Korea evade sanctions.

This undated picture released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) via KNS on March 7, 2017 shows the launch of four ballistic missiles by the Korean People's Army (KPA) during a military drill at an undisclosed location in North Korea. It was not immediately clear what happened to the rest of the crew, which at least at one time totalled two dozen members. "There is no connection at all between the recent activities by North Korea", said Geoffrey Berman, the USA attorney for the Southern District of NY.

Experts say sanctions enforcement is dependent on the willingness of foreign countries to assist in seizures and charges when violations are discovered. "Nobody's happy about it, but we're taking a good look, and we'll see".

Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, walk together to their one-on-one bilateral meeting, Tuesday, June 12, 2018, at the Capella Hotel in Singapore. And President Donald Trump said North Korea may not be ready to negotiate, indicating that a negotiated de-escalation of the latest crisis may not be quick in coming.

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