The United States has for the first time seized a North Korean cargo ship it accused of illicit coal shipments in violation of US and United Nations sanctions, the US Justice Department announced yesterday.
The ship, known as the “Wise Honest”, was first detained by Indonesia in April 2018. Under an unusual US civil forfeiture action, the vessel is now in the possession of the United States and is currently approaching US territorial waters, a Justice Department official said.
The announcement comes after North Korea fired what appeared to be two short-range missiles yesterday, its second such test in less than a week and an apparent protest by leader Kim Jong Un after US President Donald Trump rejected his calls for sanctions relief at a summit in February.
The Justice Department said in a statement that the Wise Honest was used by Korea Songi Shipping Company, which it accused of paying US dollars through unwitting US financial institutions - in violation of US laws - for improvements, equipment purchases, and service expenditures for the vessel.
“Payments totalling more than $750,000 were transmitted through accounts at a US financial institution in connection with the March 2018 shipment of coal on board the Wise Honest,” the statement said.
The North Korean mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The UN Security Council has unanimously strengthened sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, banning exports including coal, iron, lead, textiles and seafood.