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US seizes North Korean coal ship over sanctions violations

A photo released by KCNA news agency on March 12, 2013, shows North Korea leader Kim Jong Un visiting the Wolnae-do Defence Detachment on the western front line. (KCNA/Xinhua/Zuma Press/MCT/TNS)
May 09, 2019

The U.S. has seized a North Korean coal ship found to be in violation of U.S. sanctions.

U.S. Marshals and the U.S. Coast Guard are coordinating in the seizure of the 17-ton ship, the “Wise Honest,” according to a Justice Department statement.

“This sanctions-busting ship is now out of service,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers.

“North Korea, and the companies that help it evade U.S. and U.N. sanctions, should know that we will use all tools at our disposal — including a civil forfeiture action such as this one or criminal charges — to enforce the sanctions enacted by the U.S. and the global community.  We are deeply committed to the role the Justice Department plays in applying maximum pressure to the North Korean regime to cease its belligerence,” Demers added.

The ship is one of North Korea’s largest carriers. It was used to illegally ship coal from North Korea between November 2016 and April 2018 while hiding its automatic identification system (AIS) signal to conceal its voyage.

The company who owned the Wise Honest, Korea Songi Shipping Company, also transmitted more than $750,000 in payments through U.S. banks.

The actions violated both U.S. law and U.N. Security Council resolutions against North Korea, which bar the country from exporting coal.

“Today’s civil action is the first-ever seizure of a North Korean cargo vessel for violating international sanctions,” said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman.

“Our Office uncovered North Korea’s scheme to export tons of high-grade coal to foreign buyers by concealing the origin of their ship, the Wise Honest.  This scheme not only allowed North Korea to evade sanctions, but the Wise Honest was also used to import heavy machinery to North Korea, helping expand North Korea’s capabilities and continuing the cycle of sanctions evasion,” Berman said.

“Although barred from doing business in this country, North Korea continues to violate U.S. and international sanctions while simultaneously taking advantage of unwitting U.S. companies,” said Assistant Director John Brown. “The FBI is committed to ensuring that North Korea be held responsible for their blatant disregard for U.S. law.”