South Korea seizes ship suspected of sending oil to North Korea

The vessel, Lighthouse Winmore, transferred refined petroleum products to a North Korean ship in international waters in late October.
The vessel, Lighthouse Winmore, transferred refined petroleum products to a North Korean ship in international waters in late October.PHOTO: MARINETRAFFIC.COM

SEOUL (AFP) – South Korea briefly seized and inspected a Hong Kong-registered ship in November (2017) for transferring oil products to a North Korean vessel and breaching UN sanctions, a foreign ministry official said on Friday (Dec 29).

The Lighthouse Winmore, which was chartered by a Taiwanese company and carrying around 600 tonnes of oil products from South Korea’s Yeosu port, transferred part of its cargo to a North Korean vessel on Oct 19, the official said.

South Korean customs authorities briefly seized and inspected the ship when it returned to Yeosu Port on Nov 24, he added.

The ship, chartered by Taiwanese company Billions Bunker Group, previously visited Yeosu on Oct 11 to load up on Japanese refined oil before heading towards its purported destination in Taiwan.

Instead of going to Taiwan, however, the vessel transferred the oil to the North’s Sam Jong 2 as well as to three other non-North Korean vessels in international waters, the official said.

“This marks a typical case of North Korea shrewdly circumventing UN Security Council sanctions by using its illegal networks,” the official told journalists.

“The actions taken will be reported to the UN Security Council sanctions committee on North Korea in the future,” he said.

South Korea has shared intelligence with the US about the detection of the illegal transaction, he added.

The Lighthouse Winmore is one of 10 ships the US has asked the UN Security Council to blacklist for violating sanctions against North Korea.

Taipei said the Billions Bunker Group is not incorporated in Taiwan but in the Marshall Islands, and that it would “continue to fully comply” with UN sanctions against North Korea.

Taiwan’s transport ministry said it is investigating whether any Taiwanese entities were involved.

The Lighthouse Winmore came to Taiwan twice this year to “load supplies”, the ministry added, but gave no further details.

The ship is owned by a Hong Kong-registered company called Win More Shipping Limited. There was nobody Friday at the address given for the firm on Hong Kong’s companies registry.

The Sam Jong 2 was one of four North Korean ships that was blocked from international ports by the UN Security Council on Thursday over suspicions of carrying or transporting goods banned by sanctions targeting Pyongyang’s weapons ambitions, diplomats told AFP.

The US had asked the Security Council to blacklist 10 vessels – including the Lighthouse Winmore – for violating sanctions against North Korea.

But China objected to the proposal last week, diplomats said, and only agreed to blacklist the four North Korea-flagged ships on Thursday.

The Security Council has imposed three sets of sanctions on North Korea this year: one on Aug 5 targeting the iron, coal and fishing industries, another set on Sept 11 aimed at textiles and limiting oil supply, and the most recent on Dec 22 focused on refined petroleum products.