Recent satellite imagery provided to NK Pro by Planet Labs of North Korea’s Nampho oil terminal shows rapid progress on an apparent land reclamation project on the eastern side of the facility.

The Nampho terminal is North Korea’s primary oil loading and offloading facility, and a likely destination for much of the oil that North Korea imports from overseas.

A previous NK Pro report published in November last year indicated that work on a third pier at the facility seemed complete, though other parts of the upgrades to the area appeared ongoing.

Updated imagery taken at the start of January shows the colder temperatures have not yet affected the speed of the construction, with a relatively large area of new land visible attached to the terminal’s easternmost pier.

While the purpose of the land reclamation is not yet apparent from the imagery, the new area could potentially serve as grounds for additional storage capabilities in the future.

More capacity would go hand in hand with the newly constructed pier on the west of the oil terminal, and the January imagery shows a tanker is docked at the additional berth.

Image from January shows land reclamation on the eastern side of the facility nearly complete. Image: Planet Labs

A vessel was also docked at the pier in October, possibly indicating that the pier is now in use, while five other ships are docked at the middle pier.

The upgrades to the Nampho oil terminal come despite international sanctions intended to limit the supplies of oil to North Korea passed in December 2017

UN Resolution 2397 placed caps on how much oil member states could export to the DPRK in a calendar year, and North Korea’s long term energy patrons China and Russia have only reported minimal shipments to their neighbor this year.

But North Korea has likely found a way to circumvent the restrictions, receiving unknown quantities of oil via transfers directly between oil tankers at sea.

The U.S. previously released information claiming that it had observed 89 cargo transfers between vessels at sea, showing how North Korean vessels were receiving oil deliveries without entering ports.

Washington also said that it believes the illicit shipments had breached the 500,000 barrel cap refined oil products in September last year.

“The United States has assessed and can say in no uncertain terms say that the cap of 500,000 barrels has been breached this year,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the UN Security Council at the time.

“We continue to see illegal imports of additional refined petroleum, using ship-to-ship transfers, which are clearly prohibited under the UN resolution.”

But NK Pro data from December also indicates that commercial fuel prices at the pump in Pyongyang increased to yearly highs in the last month of the year, and have remained there as of the start of January.

Edited by Oliver Hotham

Featured image: Planet Labs