About the Author
Hamish Macdonald is an NK News contributor and has previously worked at The Korea Herald and for the Australia Centre for Independent Journalism in Sydney.
The Japanese government on Friday published images showing what appears to be a North Korean oil tanker engaged in sanctioned activity with a vessel of unknown nationality on the high seas in May.
The images – taken on May 24 by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force – show the already-sanctioned Sam Jong 2 alongside another vessel, suggesting a Ship-to-Ship (STS) transfer, which is prohibited under current UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions, had taken place.
“In the daytime on May 24, 2018, a JS ‘UMIGIRI’ (Escort Division12: Kure) of Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force found that SAM JONG 2 (IMO number: 7408873), North Korean-flagged tanker, was lying alongside a tanker of unknown nationality on which ‘MYONG RYU 1’ was indicated, on the high sea (around 250km eastern offshore of Shanghai) in the East China Sea,” a press release from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) read.
“Judging from the fact that the two vessels lay alongside each other and connected hoses, both vessels could have been engaged in some type of activity. Following a comprehensive assessment, the Government of Japan strongly suspects that they conducted ship-to-ship transfers,” it added.
UNSC Resolution 2375, passed unanimously on September 11, 2017, prohibits persons and entities from facilitating or engaging in STS transfers with the DPRK.
STS transfers linked to North Korea typically involve the transfer of oil products, which are also subject to caps under UNSC resolutions.
Despite the multilateral prohibitions, Japan has observed and reported ongoing cases of STS transfers in 2018, with the government issuing a similar release regarding a suspected STS transfer involving a DPRK ship as recently as May 29.
The Sam Jong 2 has already been the subject of an investigation by a UN Panel of Experts (PoE) tasked with monitoring North Korean sanctions implementation.
In its 2018 report, the PoE published images of the Sam Jong 2 engaged in an STS transfer of marine oil products in October last year.
The Sam Jong 2 was sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury on February 23 and by the UNSC on March 30 for its involvement in STS transfers.
The ship photographed alongside the Sam Jong 2 on May 24 is of an unknown origin, though the words Myong Ryu 1 appear painted on the hull.
“The ship does not appear to be in maritime databases, indicating that its outward-looking details may have been forged,” Leo Byrne, Data and Analytics Director at NK News, said on Monday. “Another alternative is that these ships are being purposefully bought and renamed to conduct these transfers.”
“In either case, North Korea is still employing the sanctions evasion techniques outlined by the PoE in its latest report.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham