The government of Indonesia has begun the process of repatriating the 25 crewmembers of the detained DPRK-flagged Wise Honest ship, a recent sanctions implementation report by the country submitted to the UN revealed.
In a document dated April 2 and uploaded onto the UN 1718 committee website sometime in the past few weeks, the Indonesian government reported the crew of the Wise Honest, detained since last year for sailing under a false identity, would be sent home.
“Indonesia has been gradually repatriating the 25 crew members of the Wise Honest vessel, upon the completion of their legal proceedings which were finalized on 19 February 2019,” the report reads.
The Wise Honest — owned by the Korea Songi Shipping Co — was detained by Indonesian officials in April 2018.
As is common with North Korean ships operating overseas, the vessel was found to be sailing under both DPRK and Sierra Leone flags, and had turned off its automatic identification system (AIS) ahead of its entry into Indonesian territory.
It was at the time said to have been transporting 25,500 tons of coal worth at least $2,990,000 from the DPRK’s Nampo terminal, and was reportedly set to conduct an illegal ship-to-ship transfer (STS) off the coast of Indonesia’s East Kalimantan province.
Authorities also reported that a South Korean company called Enermax was the “final destination/recipient of the coal upon the STS transfer of the coal in Balikpapan.”
That company later denied any knowledge of the coal’s origins, saying “we simply received an offer of Indonesia-origin coal from someone who seemed to be a local broker in Indonesia.”
And while the ship’s captain Kim Chung Son was last year charged with “knowingly hoisting a false flag,” reporting by Voice of American (VOA) last month revealed he had been released and that the smuggled coal had been handed over to a local broker.
That broker, the UN Panel of Experts (PoE) reported in its annual report in March, has been informed that the coal must be seized and that he is not permitted to sell it.
One expert said the case spoke to the increasing ability of North Korean vessels to obfuscate their origins to avoid detection and transport illicit commodities.
“The case of the Wise Honest shows how North Korean sanctions evasion mechanisms have evolved over time, employing multiple techniques to smuggle sanctioned coal,” Leo Byrne, Data and Analytic Director at NK News, said.
“They’ve come a long way from sailing a North Korean-flagged vessel straight to Cuba through the Panama Canal,” he added, a reference to the 2015 case of the Chong Chon Gang ship.
And while the repatriations are reportedly ongoing, the fate of several of the Wise Honest’s crewmen is unclear, with Indonesian authorities having offered conflicting figures about how many North Koreans remain in their territory.
In a letter to the PoE included in the March report’s annex, the Indonesian government in September last year said that one had died of heart failure linked to diabetes while under detention.
Another was referred to a doctor in Jakarta due to “loss of eyesight” linked to traumatic optic neuropathy, a condition often caused by blunt trauma to the head or eye.
They are reportedly under the care of the DPRK embassy in the country, and accompanied by a fellow crew-member.
A further three of the North Koreans were reported to have already been deported, the letter continued, due to “acute health problems (brain tumor).”
“Currently there are a total of 19 crew members still detained on the ship, excluding the two in Jakarta,” it said.
As for the Wise Honest, Jakarta in its implementation report last month said the vessel would remain under detention following the “request of a third country for that measure to be imposed.”
That third country is likely the U.S. — reported by Indonesia last year to have submitted a request for Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters (MLA) related to the case via its embassy in Jakarta.
Edited by Colin Zwirko
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Featured Image: by sbamueller on 2013-08-15 06:22:29