SEOUL • South Korea has disclosed a probe into a local ship suspected of illegal high-seas cargo transfers with North Korean vessels, affirming support for US-backed sanctions ahead of a summit with President Donald Trump.
The authorities impounded the South Korean-flagged oil products tanker P Pioneer in the southern port of Busan last October, a government official said yesterday, confirming an earlier report in the Chosun Ilbo newspaper.
The ship - the first local vessel seized by the South Korean authorities - is among four detained for potential violations of United Nations curbs on fuel shipments to North Korea, Chosun said.
The disclosure comes as South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who sought to serve as a bridge between Mr Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, prepares to travel to Washington next week to resuscitate nuclear talks.
Mr Moon has faced attacks from both sides since the US-North Korea summit in Hanoi collapsed without a deal, with opposition lawmakers accusing his government of going soft on the regime and North Korea criticising it for supporting US-backed sanctions. The economic penalties are expected to be a main topic of discussion when Mr Moon meets Mr Trump at the White House on April 11.
The talks between Mr Kim and Mr Trump broke down over disputes concerning how much sanctions relief was warranted for the disarmament steps offered by North Korea.
Mr Moon's nuclear envoy Lee Do-Hoon told a forum in Seoul yesterday that more "meaningful" working-level talks, rather than tougher penalties, were necessary to resolve the dispute.
"To believe that the strongest sanctions and more pressure alone would make North Korea suddenly give up this entire nuclear programme is an illusion," Mr Lee said.
North Korea has evaded sanctions to import as much as 71/2 times the allowed amount of refined petroleum last year, with the ship-to-ship transfers playing a large role in providing fuel and materials to the energy-starved regime, the US government said.
A UN report said the vessels disguise their identities, turn off transponders and often conduct transfers under the cover of darkness to avoid detection. The vessels also use social media to communicate and alter documents to dupe global banks and insurance companies.