The number of North Korean ships inspected for safety risks at overseas ports in 2017 fell by almost a third compared to the previous year, according to Tokyo MOU data.
2017 saw 245 North Korean ships in total inspected at overseas ports for safety, according to the data, compared to 322 the previous year and 294 in 2015, in a sign that a strengthening sanctions regime may be dissuading DPRK ships from going overseas.
“The official lack of coal, iron, oil etc has probably played a part to reduce North Korean ship visits or inspections, though this doesn’t necessarily mean the trade has stopped completely,” Leo Byrne, Data and Analytic Director at NK News, said.
Illicit goods are likely still being delivered by vessels with flying flags of third countries, he added, a practice known in shipping as using a flag of convenience (FOC).
With the United Nations strengthening limitations on the goods North Korean vessels are permitted to carry, using FOCs may be the only way for Pyongyang to earn much-needed foreign currency from its international shipping.
The final quarter of the year, in particular, saw the number of North Korean ships inspected at overseas ports fall to half compared to the same period last year, according to the data.
40 DPRK-flagged vessels were inspected during the period, while 98 were inspected at overseas ports in the last quarter of 2016. In 2015, 111 North Korean vessels were inspected at overseas ports in the same period.
An official from South Korea’s Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries told NK News that the decline could be due to a fall in the total quantity of the country’s vessels visiting overseas ports, while stipulating the numbers would “not be necessarily equal.”
The decrease is unlikely to be caused by improving safety standards among North Korea’s fleet, too. Detention rates for North Korean vessels have been rising for years, with an increasing number of the vessels showing serious deficiencies in safety and being deemed unfit to return to the sea.
28 North Korean vessels were detained at overseas ports last year, 11.4% of the total of vessels inspected in the year – an increase of 3.7% compared to 2016.
Ships are typically detained when a port authority believes it is not fit to return to sea – only being allowed to leave a port when the issues are resolved.
The most recently detained North Korean vessel was the Boun 1, a general cargo ship owned by Boun Shipping Co., which was detained in Dalian, China in late December 2017 for 29 deficiencies related to insufficient safety equipment.
Among the North Korean ships detained in 2017, the Jang Saeng was listed as having the largest number of deficiencies.
The general cargo ship, owned by Korea Jangsaeng Trading Co Ltd, was detained in Dalian, China, in May.
It was charged with 35 deficiencies related to navigation safety, fire safety, and inadequate ship maintenance.
No North Korean vessels have been inspected or detained so far this year.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
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