A North Korean-flagged ship seized by U.S. authorities earlier in the year for violations of international sanctions departed American Samoa earlier in the week, the U.S. Coast Guard said in a statement on Wednesday.
The Wise Honest, which has been held in Pago Pago, American Samoa since May, left the port under tow and will now be transferred to its new owner, whose identity was not publicly revealed in the statement.
“The 580-foot motor vessel Wise Honest, a 17,061-ton, single-hull bulk carrier ship connected to U.S. sanctions violations departed under tow Monday,” the Coast Guard said.
“This action comes after an investigation by the Department of Justice and the sale of the ship in a Southern District of New York Federal Court-directed auction.”
Local media in American Samoa reported earlier this week that the ship has now been sold for scrap and departed the island on Monday.
And while neither the U.S. Coast Guard nor the Justice Department named its new owners, media widely reported that those assets will now be transferred to the parents of Otto Warmbier, who died under still-unclear circumstances in 2017 following an over-a-year-long detention in the DPRK.
A federal court in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) in July ruled that proceeds from the sale of the Wise Honest could be transferred to the Warmbiers, who last year successfully sued the North Korean government for $500 million.
Prior to its May seizure, the Wise Honest — owned by the Korea Songi Shipping Co — had been detained by Indonesian officials since 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 (STS) transfer off the coast of Indonesia’s East Kalimantan province.
Jakarta began repatriating its crew earlier in the year, just weeks before the U.S. government filed a civil forfeiture action against the DPRK-flagged Wise Honest, as payments made to support the ship had been cleared through the U.S. financial system.
The seizure was notable, representing the first seizure of a DPRK cargo vessel linked to evasion of international sanctions.
“This sanctions-busting ship is now out of service,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said at the time.
“The horrible unilateral sanctions and domestic law which [the] United States has employed in dispossessing our cargo ship is clearly illegal,” Kim Song, the country’s ambassador to the UN, told reporters in New York at the time of the seizure.
Featured image: U.S. Department of Justice