Another North Korean vessel arrived at a Chinese bulk port Thursday, its third such visit in recent months to the same area which is equipped to handle sanctioned commodities like coal, the NK Pro ship tracker shows.
The visit represents another instance of DPRK ships calling in ports other than Dalian in recent weeks, marking a possible uptick in North Korean-flagged vessel traffic in the region.
The 9750-tonne Kwang Myong arrived and docked at Longkou port on Thursday. Satellite imagery indicates the vessel pulled up at a berth which handles coal, with spoils visible nearby.
The previous visits in May and June were at a different terminal, though satellite photographs show those berths also process coal.
The North Korean-flagged vessel also has a colorful past, and was once involved in a $250 million rice shipping dispute, leading to its arrest and a diplomatic incident back in 2004.
Although it was flagged to Panama at the time, it was registered to Kwang Myong International Shipping Panama, a company whose owners had Korean names.
According to a report from a Singaporean law firm involved in the case, the ship attempted to deliver poor quality coal leading to its Chinese buyer calling for the ship to be impounded.
“We immediately submitted an application to the court for immediately arresting the vessel ‘Kwang Myong’ that was about to leave Shanghai in 3 hours,” the lawyers wrote in 2010.
“However, 24 hours later we were surprised to learn that although the ship was flying a Panamanian flag, it was essentially under the intelligence agencies of the DPRK and the crew members on board were also North Koreans.”
While the dispute occurred long before the existence of the current sanctions regime, the ship may not have moved far from its original owners.
The ship’s current owner is the Pyongyang-based Korea Kwangmyong Shipping, though is located at the same address as its former owner, the less North Korean sounding Si Wan Fung Holding.
While Si Wan Fung Holding no longer operates any vessels, at one time they were also involved with another vessel called the Bright Star (now called the Myong Sin), a vessel which passed through the clutches of well-known sanctions evaders T-Sisters and Baili Shipping and Trading.
According to the UN Panel of Experts (PoE) T-Sisters was connected to Ocean Maritime Management (OMM), a well known DPRK weapon smuggler working under the purview of the country’s Ministry of Land and Marine Transport.
The other company, Baili Shipping, was owned by Zhang Qiao who was a key player in the attempted smuggling of rocket-propelled grenades to Egypt aboard another vessel called the Jie Shun in 2016.
The various connections highlight how North Korea is likely continuing to employ techniques and organizations previously reserved for its weapon smuggling operations in moving sanctioned commodities.
“The consistency and similarity of the tactics suggest that they are part of a centralized strategy on the part of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to evade the commodities ban, especially given that they were also employed in the case of the designated Jie Shun,” the PoE wrote in their 2018 report.
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Featured Image: Shipwreck Sun by super-c on 2012-01-18 19:57:44