Information provided by the U.S. intelligence community shared at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday revealed methods employed by North Korea to evade sanctions on the high seas and obscure the origin of sanctioned goods, including coal.
The information, which was revealed to the committee by Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing Marshall Billingslea, shows how North Korea was able to export coal to China in June and July using irregular voyages and practices.
“As part of North Korea’s efforts to acquire revenue, the regime uses shipping networks to import and export goods. North Korea employs deceptive practices to conceal the true origin of these goods,” Billingslea testified.
Billingslea displayed images provided by the intelligence community, which show two evasion methods resulting in the eventual delivery of North Korean coal to China, via ports in Russia.
UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2321 – adopted in November 2016 – restricts the amount of North Korean coal member states are permitted to import with a cap of USD$400,870,018 worth of coal or 7,500,000 metric tons per year, whichever is lower.
Subsequently, in February of 2017, China announced a full ban on the import of North Korean coal for the rest of the year as the country approached the annual limits.
Despite the assertion that no coal was entering Chinese ports, intelligence provided to the committee revealed two examples of North Korean being delivered to China within the last four months.
“The intelligence community has provided to your committee today evidence of how vessels originate in China, they turn off their transponders as they move into North Korean waters and dock at North Korean ports and they on load commodities such as coal,” Billingslea told the committee.
“They keep those transponders off and then they turn them back on as they round the south Korean peninsula, and they head into a Russian port,” he added.
Billingslea explained that the vessel – the Bai Mei 8 – then sat in Vladivostok for a period of time, before sailing back around the peninsula with its transponder on and delivered North Korean coal to a Chinese port.
A second case provided to the committee also showed that a vessel – the Sun Union – loaded North Korean coal along the east coast of the country in late June before traveling to the Russian port of Nakhodka. The Sun Union then offloaded the coal at the Russian port and another vessel – the Great Spring – picked up the North Korean coal and delivered it to China.
“If accurate the intelligence shows that North Korea is willing to bear significantly higher organizational and financial costs to continue delivering its coal,” Leo Byrne, Director of Data and Analytics at NK News, said.
“While the intel provided did not include volumes of coal or the frequency of such practices, it does imply that Russia and China may be complicit in the sanctions evading trade.”
Byrne also said that the information revealed indicates that China’s insistence that North Korean coal has not been entering its ports – and corresponding trade statistics – are likely false, “which does not bode well for the UN’s newest resolution.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
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Featured Image: north korean ship by jonprc on 2007-05-28 18:08:44