North Korea’s ambassador to the UN on Tuesday demanded the return of a DPRK cargo ship recently seized by Washington, in a rare press conference at the UN’s headquarters in New York.
Ambassador Kim Song protested the seizure of the DPRK-flagged Wise Honest on May 9, with Washington impounding ship as payments made to support it had been cleared through the U.S. financial system.
The North Korean diplomat called the unilateral seizure illegal and condemned it under “strongest terms,” though the complaint was similar in language to an earlier statement from the DPRK’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).
“The horrible unilateral sanctions and domestic law which (the) United States has employed in dispossessing our cargo ship is clearly illegal,” Kim told assembled reporters.
Kim claimed the seizure was illegal under UN conventions, which prevent the property of sovereign states being seized by other jurisdictions.
The DPRK ambassador to the UN also urged Washington to think carefully about how the seizure will affect relations between the two countries, adding that it violated the spirit of recent diplomatic agreements signed between the two countries.
Pyongyang and Washington are currently at a diplomatic impasse over how to proceed on North Korea’s denuclearization, following the breakdown of negotiations at the Hanoi Summit in February.
“I don’t see this as an unraveling (recent diplomatic progress) unless the U.S. continues down this road of maximum pressure,” Ken Gause, a North Korean leadership expert at the CNA Corporation told NK News.
“This ship has been under impound for over a year. North Korea is using the transfer to the U.S. to raise its fundamental issue with the U.S. that Washington is breaking the spirit of the agreement reached in Singapore.”
During the press conference, Kim took questions from reporters, though declined to answer any that were not directly related to the case of the Wise Honest and repeated parts of his statement in answer to those that were.
The North Korean diplomat did not answer questions on whether Pyongyang would apologize for the death of Otto Warmbier and on whether the Wise Honest was carrying sanctioned materials.
But according to the UN Panel of Experts’ (PoE) most recent report, the North Korean cargo ship was carrying coal intended for export to South Korea, a clear breach of UN sanctions which currently prohibit the DPRK from selling its raw materials abroad.
“The vessel Wise Honest … was transporting 25,500 tons of coal when it was detained by Indonesia around 1 April 2018,” the PoE wrote in their 2019 report, also noting that it was illegally sailing with two sets of registration documents.
UN resolutions also grant member states the power to inspect and seize suspicious vessels in their territorial waters or ports, though Washington’s seizure was under the authority of its own unilateral sanctions.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the ship was involved in sanctions breaking behavior since at least 2016, smuggling coal in breach of UN resolutions under the auspices of the Korean People’s Army.
The Department of Justice said it could seize the vessel as payments for “maintenance, equipment, and improvements of the Wise Honest were made in U.S. dollars through unwitting U.S. banks.”
While the North Korean Ambassador to the UN declined to give further details on the vessel’s cargo, he did confirm that the ship “is a state-owned ship,” adding that it was “a part of our republic.”
The press conference is the second time Pyongyang has publicly protested the seizure of the Wise Honest, with the DPRK’s foreign ministry also issuing a statement on May 14.
“The U.S. should deliberate what kind of consequences will be caused by its gangster-like behavior for the development of circumstances in the future and return our vessel without any delay,” the statement read. “We will sharply watch the future movement of the U.S.”
Featured image: UN TV