HK vessel ‘seized’ over oil transfer, Beijing denies breaking sanctions

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A file shot of an oil tanker on the high seas. The US fears China may have secretly helped North Korea evade UN sanctions on oil trading. Photo: iStock

South Korea seized and inspected a vessel last month suspected of relaying fuel to North Korea in defiance of international sanctions, a foreign ministry official said on Friday.

The vessel, Lighthouse Winmore, which is registered in Hong Kong, was accused of transferring oil products to a North Korean ship in international waters in October, the official said.

The vessel was chartered by a Taiwanese company and carrying around 600 tonnes of fuel products from the South Korean port of Yeosu, but transferred part of its cargo to a North Korean vessel on October 19.

South Korean customs authorities briefly seized and inspected the ship when it returned to Yeosu Port on November 24, the official said, according to AFP.

‘Getting around UNSC sanctions’

The ship, chartered by Taiwanese firm Billions Bunker Group Corp, had visited Yeosu on October 11 to load up on Japanese refined oil before heading towards Taiwan.

But instead of going to Taiwan, it transferred the oil to the Sam Jong 2, plus 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.

Ban on four North Korean vessels

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

The Sam Jong 2 was one of four North Korean ships blocked from international ports by the UN Security Council on Thursday over suspicions they had carried goods banned by sanctions targeting Pyongyang’s weapons ambitions, diplomats said.

Meanwhile, Beijing rebuffed claims by US President Donald Trump that China had allowed oil shipments to go into North Korea.

‘We would never break UN resolutions’

It said reports of Chinese ships selling oil to Pyongyang did not accord with the facts and that China would never allow Chinese companies to violate UN resolutions.

China always implemented UN resolutions in their entirety, ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing. And if violations had really occurred China would deal with them seriously in accordance with the law.

Hua spoke after President Trump said on Thursday he was not happy about news this week that vessels were supplying oil to North Korea.

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

with AFP and Reuters

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