As relations between the United States and North Korea enter a deeper chill, the U.S. has seized a North Korean ship it says was used to evade sanctions against North Korea.
The 17,601-ton ship, the Wise Honest, was originally detained last year in Indonesia, but its seizure by the United States government was not announced until Thursday. According to The New York Times, the ship was being towed Thursday to American Samoa.
“This sanctions-busting ship is now out of service,” Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers said Thursday, according to a Justice Department statement.
“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 said.
U.S. officials said that the ship’s papers tried to cover up its real destinations and its cargo. The Justice Department said that U.S. banks were also used in the scheme.
“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 in the statement.
“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. With this seizure, we have significantly disrupted that cycle. We are willing and able to deploy the full array of law enforcement tools to detect, deter, and prosecute North Korea’s deceptive attempts to evade sanctions,” Berman said.
It’s unclear what the next step will be, according to Fox News.
“North Korea doesn’t have many big ships it can use for exports. If this size of ship is seized and that seizure isn’t lifted quickly, it would greatly damage North Korea,” said analyst Cho Bong-hyun of Seoul’s IBK Economic Research Institute.
“The U.S. action could be more like a warning aimed at preventing North Korea from violating sanctions again rather than not sending it back for good,” Cho said.
The episode was part of a recent chill in North Korean-U.S. relations.
Also on Thursday, North Korea tested short-range ballistic missiles for the second time in a week. The United States launched a missile of its own shortly afterward, although U.S. officials said the timing was arranged well in advance.
— Bloomberg (@business) May 10, 2019
Further, the website Beyond Parallel identified what it said was a previously undisclosed operational North Korean missile base.
“They’ve hollowed out an entire mountain,” said Victor Cha, a North Korea expert.
President Donald Trump admitted that recent incidents amounted to a pothole on the road to progress, but voiced some hope that relations can be repaired.
“Nobody’s happy about it, but we’re taking a good look and we’ll see. We’ll see. The relationship continues, but we’ll see what happens. I know they want to negotiate, they’re talking about negotiating, but I don’t think they’re ready to negotiate,” Trump said Thursday, according to The New York Times.
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