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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
A North Korean tanker sanctioned by the UN and U.S. was photographed by Japanese air and naval forces conducting suspected ship-to-ship oil transfers on consecutive days earlier this month, the Japanese foreign ministry reported Friday.
It is the second report from Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) since November, and follows another report in June which also dealt with ship-to-ship (STS) transfers involving a single DPRK tanker connecting to smaller vessels over the course of multiple days.
The method of connecting side-by-side with another ship on the high seas to receive through hoses what is suspected to be oil products is thought to be one of North Korea’s primary methods of evading UN sanctions on oil imports, and is closely watched by Japan, the U.S., and other allies and frequently reported to the UN.
In the latest example, the Nam San 8 (IMO number 8122347) was photographed at 11:00 local time (12:00 Japanese time) on December 16 by a Japanese navy air squadron “lying alongside a small vessel of unknown nationality on the high seas in the East China Sea (around 290km southeastern offshore of Shanghai).”
On the following day as well, the Nam San 8 was photographed around the same area at 08:00 local time by the Japanese naval destroyer ‘Shimakaze’ “lying alongside a small vessel of unknown nationality that might be identical with the vessel found on the previous day.”
Images provided of the two instances appear to show that the smaller vessel was indeed the same on both days.
The MOFA report said that after careful analysis, the “Government of Japan strongly suspects that they conducted ship-to-ship transfers banned by a United Nations Security Council resolution.”
Given the travel distance and time required, it is likely the smaller vessel returned to an unknown location to retrieve more supplies to deliver the second day, while the Nam San 8 waited.
STS transfers “of any goods or items that are being supplied, sold, or transferred to or from the DPRK” were banned under UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2375 passed in September 2017.
“Japan notified the Security Council Committee (Panel of Experts) of this incident and shared information with related countries,” the Friday report concluded.
It also said it was the 15th public report on North Korean STS transfers since the UN resolution came into effect, covering the 22nd and 23rd such individual events witnessed by Japanese and partner naval forces.
The North Korean vessel in question, the Nam San 8, was designated by the UNSC in March 2018, while the U.S. Treasury had designated the ship that February.
The vessel is owned and operated by Hapjanggang Shipping Corp., which was also designated by the UNSC and U.S. Treasury.
It last appeared in a Japanese MOFA STS transfers report in August 2018, having been captured on camera “lying alongside a vessel of unknown nationality flying a flag that seemed like Chinese-flag, on the high seas (around 400km south-southeastern offshore of Shanghai) in the East China Sea.”
The Live Ship Tracking service from NK News’s sister site NK Pro as well as other open-source trackers such as Equasis show that the Nam San 8 last publicly broadcasted its location near Nampho in September 2017, with its last inspection in adjacent Dalian, China that March.
Besides STS transfer activities reporting, MOFA has in recent months continued to provide regular updates on North Korean vessel “monitoring and surveillance activities” of the Japan Coast Guard and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, alongside partner nations Australia, Canada, New Zealand, France, the UK, and the U.S.