A North Korean cargo ship with previous ties to the DPRK’s sanctions evasion networks arrived at a Chinese port equipped to offload cargos such as coal and iron late on Tuesday, the NK Pro Ship Tracker shows.

The ship’s arrival comes despite mounting scrutiny on the movement of North Korea’s commercial maritime fleet, with the DPRK reportedly borrowing techniques from its weapon smuggling operations to move sanctioned commodities.

The 14000-ton Myong Sin bulk carrier docked at a pier in China’s Lianyungang Port on Tuesday, with satellite imagery indicating the port is able to handle a wide variety of bulk cargos.

“These appear to include coal, iron, and nickel products, among others,” Scott LaFoy, a Washington-based satellite imagery expert and NK Pro analyst, said.

The Myong Sin’s point of origin is not included in its voyage information, with the ship appearing on international tracking systems near the Chinese coastline on February 10 before making its way to the port.

But recent satellite imagery of the port shows the North Korean ship docked in the port over the course of several hours.

The Myong Sin on the February 13 | Photo: Planet Labs

“We can tell from Planet satellite imagery that there is activity,” LaFoy added. “Over the half-an-hour of direct satellite coverage, we can see either ground vehicles attending the ship or bulk cargo being unloaded.”

“Additionally, it appears that the crane is in at least limited operation around the ship, though it is not clear if it is unloading goods.”

At the time of writing draught information included in the vessel’s broadcast data was inconclusive on whether the ship was sitting higher or lower in the water than when it arrived in the port, an indicator of whether a ship has taken on cargo.

Successive UN resolutions on North Korea have added to the list of materials which member states cannot import from the DPRK, with nearly all DPRK metals, minerals, and raw materials now prohibited.

The most recent set of UN sanctions passed on December 22 also prohibit member states from importing North Korean wood, earth, stone, and magnesia.

The North Korean cargo ship’s previous ownership and management are also a potential source of concern, as the vessel was previously firmly embedded in the North’s arms smuggling networks for a number of years.

According to the Equasis Maritime Database, the ship was previously owned by T-Sisters, a company which shared contact details with two other companies called K-Brothers and Sinotug shipping involved in DPRK sanctions evasion.

The companies and their owners were the architects of an illegal shipment from North Korean to Egypt in 2016 aboard a vessel called the Jie Shun.

The Egyptian authorities seized the vessel, which was found to be carrying 30,000 North Korean-manufactured rocket-propelled grenades.

A yet to be released from the UN Panel of Experts (PoE) noted that North Korea continued to export coal and other sanctioned minerals around the world, despite stricter UN measures.

“The Panel investigated over 30 cases of DPRK exports of coal to at least four Member States in South-East Asia,” the report reads.

“In so doing, the DPRK has made use of a combination of multiple evasion techniques, routes and deceptive shipping tactics including Automatic Information System (AIS) manipulation, loitering, voyage deviations and fraudulent documentation.”

Edited by Oliver Hotham

Featured image: NK Pro Ship Tracker / Google Earth