US seized N. Korean ship accused of violating UN sanctions

PHOTO: A ship is pictured in this photo released by the U.S. Attorneys office for the Southern District of New York.PlayUS Attorney's office for the Southern District of New York
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The United States has seized a North Korean cargo ship that had been operating in violation of United Nations sanctions, federal prosecutors will announce Thursday.

PHOTO: A ship is pictured in this photo released by the U.S. Attorneys office for the Southern District of New York. US Attorneys office for the Southern District of New York
A ship is pictured in this photo released by the U.S. Attorney's office for the Southern District of New York.

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The United States seized Wise Honest, a bulk carrier that strayed into Indonesian waters last April, flying a flag from Sierra Leone. The Indonesian Navy detained the ship, inspected it and discovered a crew of 25 North Koreans along with a cargo hold full of coal.

The ship is part of a fleet of ghost vessels that North Korea has been using to flout sanctions and export millions of dollars’ worth of coal. According to a recent report from the U.N. Security Council, the proceeds help finance North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

“The nuclear and ballistic missile (programs) of the Democratic People ’s Republic of Korea remain intact and the country continues to defy Security Council resolutions through a massive increase in illegal ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products and coal,” the UN Security Council report said.

PHOTO: A ship is pictured in this photo released by the U.S. Attorneys office for the Southern District of New York. US Attorneys office for the Southern District of New York
A ship is pictured in this photo released by the U.S. Attorney's office for the Southern District of New York.

North Korea disguises ships like Wise Honest by painting fake names on the hulls, stealing identification numbers from other ships and by making ship-to-ship transfers of coal at sea, to avoid inspections at ports.

“In addition to evading sanctions, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and its maritime fleet are systematically violating the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, routinely engaging in double-flagging and providing safe (harbor) for hijacked ships,” the UN report said.

The U.S. seizure comes amid rising tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, which fired two suspected short-range missiles in its second launch in five days.