The British and Japanese governments last week published evidence that North Korea’s use of illicit ship-to-ship transfers continues, in press releases warning that Pyongyang’s activities constituted a violation of international sanctions.
In a statement carried by the British Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the Royal Navy vessel HMS Montrose was reported to have spotted the DPRK-flagged Saebyol “alongside a ship of unknown nationality” on March 2.
“It is assessed that the ships were carrying out a ship-to-ship transfer, which is prohibited by United Nations sanctions,” the press release read.
The Montrose — which has since January been involved in regional sanctions enforcement — “gathered photographic evidence of the activity and this information has now been reported to the United Nations,” the statement continued.
Further evidence published by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) reported that “the two vessels lay alongside each other and connected hoses with their lights turned on at night,” strongly suggesting that they had been engaged in illicit activity.
The transfer was said to have taken place “on the high seas (around 390km southern offshore of Shanghai) in the East China Sea.”
The Saebyol — which has also sailed under the name Chong Rim 2 — was designated by both the U.S. and the United Nations Security Council in 2016 for its links to the DPRK’s notorious Ocean Maritime Management (OMM) company and is subject to an asset freeze.
This week’s revelations are not the first time the ship has been tied to STS transfers: early 2018 saw the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) report its involvement in two shipments of 1500 tons of oil to the DPRK.
STS transfers are prohibited under UNSC Resolution 2397 adopted in December 2017, with last week’s reports being the first confirmed reports of the activity since January.
The DPRK has in the past year increasingly turned to the practice to circumvent international sanctions, with the U.S. reporting last year that vessels tied to Pyongyang had likely conducted at least 89 such transfers between January and May.
The UN panel of Experts (PoE) tasked with monitoring the implementation of sanctions imposed on the DPRK in a report last month, too, reported that the practice remains pervasive.