THE US has seized a “sanctions-busting” North Korean ship as tensions escalate between the two countries.
The move was announced hours after North Korea fired two ballistic missiles more than 300km in its second such test in less than a week.
Reuters North Korean despot Kim Jong-un oversaw the launch of two new missiles
Reuters The ‘Wise Honest’, North Korea’s second largest cargo ship, was detained in April 2018
Despot Kim Jong-un oversaw the launch and ordered the further increase of the North Korean army’s strike ability “on the western front”.
Shortly after the provocative tests, US officials revealed the ‘Wise Honest’, North Korea’s second largest cargo ship, was detained in April 2018 as it travelled toward Indonesia.
The Trump administration said the ship was used to transport coal in violation of international sanctions.
It is currently being moved to American Samoa, Justice Department officials said.
Reuters North Korea fired two ballistic missiles more than 300km
Missiles launched by North Korea serve only to increase tensions in region says UN Secretary-General
The revelation that the vessel is now in US custody may further inflame tensions, though US officials said the timing of their complaint was not a response to the missile launch.
Justice Department lawyers say the ship was confiscated after payments for maintenance and operation of the vessel were channelled through unwitting US financial institutions in violation of American law.
The coal trade itself is also believed to fund the isolated country’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
“This sanctions-busting ship is now out of service,” Assistant Attorney General John Demers, the Justice Department’s top national security official, told reporters.
He later added: “The U.S. sanctions against North Korea reflect the threat these programs pose to U.S. national security.”
The 581-foot (177 meters) Wise Honest was used for coal transports to ports in China, Russia and other countries, according to the complaint.
It generated badly needed revenue to a country that is under UN sanctions because of its nuclear weapons program.
The ship also delivered heavy machinery back to North Korea.
The vessel was owned by a subsidiary of a North Korean shipping company that is controlled by the country’s military and is on a Treasury Department sanctions list, officials said.
North Korea sought to disguise the nationality of the ship and the origin of its cargo, according to the complaint.
The ship, in what US officials say was a clear act of concealment, also turned off an automatic signal system intended to alert other ships of its course and location.
Indonesian authorities intercepted and seized the Wise Honest in the East China Sea a month after it was photographed at the port of Nampo, North Korea, where it took on a load of coal.
The captain of the ship was charged in Indonesia with violating that country’s maritime laws and convicted, the complaint says.
It was not immediately clear what happened to the rest of the crew, which at least at one time totalled two dozen members.
The US has prosecuted people and businesses for violating sanctions but has never before seized a North Korean ship.
The country will have an opportunity to contest the seizure in court.
If the U.S. prevails, it will be able to sell the vessel.
“When nations who have stated an intent to do harm to the United States evade international sanctions, Americans become less safe,” said Geoffrey Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Asked whether North Korea’s largest merchant ship was similarly involved in illegal coal exports, Demers said that he did not know, but added, “If it is, we’d love to get our hands on it.”
President Donald Trump and Kim have held two summits focused on the North’s nuke program.
But they have made no clear progress towards a deal that would eliminate North Korea’s weapons.
At the White House on Thursday, Trump said the US was looking “very seriously right now” at North Korea’s recent military tests.
“Nobody’s happy about it.”
Less than a week ago, Kim oversaw the test-firing of multiple rockets and a missile.
DAN & OUT Danny Baker told BBC to ‘f*** off’ as they fired him for ‘racist’ Meg baby tweet ICE BREAKER UK weather to be hotter than SICILY this weekend – after the frost EVERY LITTLE HELPS Moment prankster cons Asda worker into announcing ‘Tesco is cheaper’ BAKER OFF ‘Danny Baker’ says ‘it’s not me!’ as Twitter trolls confuse him with BBC star BLADE CEREMONY Toyboy, 28, ‘swapped engagement KNIVES with teacher, 69, before killing him’ ‘Disgrace’ Proud OAP jumped to her death when pension was frozen and she was left with £5
It was North Korea’s first test of a ballistic missile since an ICBM launch in November 2017 that it said was capable of firing a warhead anywhere in the US.
South Korean officials say that the latest tests may signal that nuke disarmament talks with Washington could be in danger.
Trump, who has met with Kim twice now, has said: “I don’t think they’re ready to negotiate.”
Reuters Kim has ordered the further increase of the North Korean army’s strike ability ‘on the western front’