‘North Korean’ oil tanker near Libya unlikely DPRK owned

The oil tanker that approached the Es-Sider terminal in Lybia was likely flying a North Korean 'Flag of Convenience'
March 9th, 2014

An oil tanker currently near Libya and flying a North Korean flag is likely carrying a “flag of convenience,” an analyst at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said on Thursday.

The North Korea flagged vessel, which failed to dock at Libya’s Es-Sider terminal on Tuesday, was now circling nearby waters according to a Libyan navy statement published by Reuters Wednesday.

Libyan officials said that it was unclear if the ship – named the ‘Morning Glory’ – wanted to load or unload oil, but said that it had no contact with the state owned National Oil Corp (NOI).

Although several media have claimed that the tanker is North Korean, its ownership and movement history imply otherwise. By exploiting loopholes in maritime law, many vessels fly under Flags of Convenience (FOCs), allowing them to be registered in countries different to those in which the ship owners are based.

Lawrence Dermody, an analyst specializing in illicit trafficing at SIPRI, said it was therefore unlikely a North Korean owned tanker: “The vessel is likely flying a North Korean flag for convenience rather than having strong commercial ties to the state.”

“Although having lost popularity due to poorly regulated safety standards and blacklisting, there are still a small number of vessel owners that appear to use the [North Korean] flag for this purpose,” Dermody said.

Currently the Morning Glory is registered to a UAE based company called Fal Shipping Co and data shows it sailed under a Liberian flag until relatively recently, when it was re-flagged to North Korea.

“The ship looks to have recently changed hands after operating in the Middle East for a number of years and is not reported as visiting the Far East since 2008” Dermody said.

Notably, the size of the vessel is also atypical when compared to the rest of the North Korean fleet.

The Morning Glory can transport nearly 36000 tons of oil, putting it 10000 tons clear of the next largest DPRK vessel, the Hyok Sin 2. In general, the North Korean ship owners operate much smaller (and older) ships, with the next largest North Korean oil tanker listing a dead weight tonnage of just 7930.

Libya’s Es-Sidr terminal is currently under the control of an armed militia seeking political independence from Tripoli.

Featured Image: Rambien 22, Creative Commons

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About the Author

Leo Byrne

Leo Byrne is the Data and Analytic Director at NK News and is based in Seoul, South Korea. Follow him on twitter @LeoPByrne