Seoul - South Korean authorities have seized a Panama-flagged oil tanker suspected of evading international sanctions by trading with North Korea. An official from South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said the 4,626-tonne Koti and its crew members were being held at Pyeongtaek-Dangjin port on the country’s west coast amid an inspection over supposed “North Korea-related” activity. An official from the Pyeongtaek Regional Office of Oceans and Fisheries, who requested anonymity, confirmed that the vessel had been barred from leaving the port since December 21.
The Koti’s estimated date of arrival at the port was December 19, according to VesselFinder Ltd, a tracking service provider, The ship can carry 5,100 tonnes of oil and has a crew mostly from China and Myanmar, Yonhap News Agency reported, adding that South Korea’s intelligence and customs officials were conducting a joint probe into the vessel. A Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed the investigation but declined to provide details. “The government has been in close consultations with related countries and ministries to thoroughly implement the sanctions by the UN Security Council,” the spokesman said. Last week US President Donald Trump said China had been caught “red handed” transferring crude oil to North Korea at sea. South Korean authorities have seized a Panama-flagged oil tanker suspected of evading international sanctions by trading with North Korea.
South Korea seized a Hong Kong-flagged ship and its crew in November, accusing the vessel of transferring petroleum products to a North Korean vessel in international waters. The ship, the Lighthouse Winmore, was believed to have transferred about 544 tonnes of refined petroleum products to the North Korean ship in international waters in the East China Sea, according to the Foreign Ministry. Ship-to-ship trade with North Korea at sea is prohibited under UN sanctions adopted on September 11. The UN Security Council imposed the sanctions as North Korea accelerated efforts to expand its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program. In recent months, North Korea conducted its most powerful nuclear test to date and flight-tested intercontinental ballistic missiles three times, raising concerns that it is closer than ever to gaining a military arsenal that can viably target the mainland United States. The country relies on imported fuel to keep its struggling economy functioning, and requires oil for its missile programs.