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US sanctions strand Russian ship in South Korean port

Busan port seen from Busan tower, the ferry on the other side is bound for Osaka, the ferry on the right side is bound for Shimonoseki, and the ferry on this side is bound for Hiroshima, which was abolished. (Bergmann/Wikimedia Commons)
November 29, 2018

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

A Russian ship that ran afoul of U.S. sanctions on North Korea has been stranded in the South Korean port of Busan for more than a month, as local oil companies are refusing to provide the fuel necessary for its voyage home.

The Sevastopol, owned by Vladivostok-based Gudzon Shipping, is one of six ships operated by the company that was put on a U.S. Treasury blacklist after Gudzon was suspected of having violated sanctions imposed on North Korea in an effort to reduce funds for its nuclear weapons program.

On Wednesday, the South Korean government acknowledged that the ship is under U.S. sanctions and said the ship has been stranded.

In an interview Thursday with RFA’s Korean Service, Gudzon’s Vice President, who only identified himself by his given name Aleksey, explained that the fuel providers are worried that they will be hit with a secondary boycott for assisting an individual or a company that has done illicit business with North Korea.

“The Sevastopol is now stuck in Busan. It’s trying to return to Russia but there’s no fuel,” Aleksey said.

“[South] Korean companies are refusing to supply fuel to us. It’s a huge problem,” he added.

“The big [South] Korean oil companies like GS Caltex and Hyundai Oil won’t deal with us because of the U.S. sanctions on all our vessels. We understand their reasoning: They just don’t want to get in trouble,” Aleksey said.

The vice president said the company would attempt to find other sources of fuel, perhaps from smaller oil companies.

On November 20, an RFA report citing data from the ship tracking website MarineTraffic, confirmed that the Sevastopol entered Busan’s port in September and was detained for investigation by the South Korean government for sanctions violations.

The investigation occurred last month and the detainment order was lifted when no violations were discovered.

MarineTraffic shows that the ship is again moored in Busan’s port at Yongho pier.

According to an October report by The Maritime Executive, the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) put the Sevastopol and the five other Gudzon ships on its sanctions list, but did not accuse the Sevastopol itself of violating sanctions.

It was added to the blacklist because a Gudzon-owned tanker, the Patriot, allegedly conducted ship-to-ship petroleum transfers with North Korean entities in violation of a UN Security Council ban.

Reported by Sangmin Lee for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.