South Korea seizes vessel over ‘oil transfer to North’

Officials say customs authorities seized and searched Hong Kong-flagged Lighthouse Winmore for breaching UN resolutions.

Map of South and North Korea

South Korean authorities have seized and inspected a Hong Kong-flagged vessel after it secretly transferred petroleum to a North Korean vessel in international waters, according to reports.

UN member countries are banned from making ship-to-ship transfers of prohibited goods for North Korea, according to the UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2375 adopted in September.

Resolution 2397, adopted on December 22, allows a country to seize, inspect and impound any vessel within its territorial waters that is suspected of engaging in prohibited activities with North Korea.

South Korean officials told Yonhap news agency that customs authorities took and searched Lighthouse Winmore when it entered the country’s Yeosu port on November 24 after transferring 600 tonnes of refined petroleum to a North Korean vessel on October 19.

The Lighthouse Winmore was chartered by Taiwanese company Billions Bunker Group and previously visited Yeosu port on October 11 to load up on Japanese refined petroleum and head to its claimed destination in Taiwan four days later, the authorities reportedly said.

Instead of going to Taiwan, however, the vessel transferred the petroleum to a North Korean ship, the Sam Jong 2, and three other non-North Korean vessels in international waters in the East China Sea, they said.

“The actions taken will be reported to the UNSC sanctions committee on North Korea in the future,” the officials were quoted by Yonhap as saying.

“This marks a typical case of North Korea shrewdly circumventing UNSC sanctions by using its illegal networks.”

‘US shared intelligence’

The officials said South Korea had shared intelligence with the US for the detection of the illegal transaction.

South Korea will be keeping the Lighthouse Winmore for about six months, during which time Hong Kong is expected to file a request for the ship’s release with the Security Council’s sanctions committee on North Korea, Yonhap said.

US President Donald Trump had said on Twitter on Thursday that China had been “caught RED HANDED” allowing petroleum into North Korea and that would prevent “a friendly solution” to the crisis over North Korea’s development of nuclear-tipped missiles

China on Friday denied Trump’s claims.

“China has always implemented UN Security Council resolutions pertaining to North Korea in their entirety and fulfils its international obligations. We never allow Chinese companies and citizens to violate the resolutions,” Hua Chunying, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, said.

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Source: Al Jazeera