US Seizes North Korean Ship Suspected of Violating Sanctions

May 9, 2019 Updated: May 10, 2019

A North Korean ship used to transport coal was seized by the United States after the country violated U.N. sanctions by firing two suspected short-range missiles.

The vessel, the Wise Honest, is a bulk carrier used to ship coal from North Korea and deliver machinery, according to officials.

Surveillance images provided in a U.N. Security Council North Korea sanctions report show what is described as the North Korean vessel Wise Honest being loaded with coal and later in Indonesia
Surveillance images provided in a U.N. Security Council North Korea sanctions report distributed March 5, 2019 show what is described as the North Korean vessel Wise Honest being loaded with coal in Nampo, North Korea March 11, 2018 (L) and later at Balikpapan Port Facility, Indonesia April 9, 2018. (United Nations Security Council/Handout via Reuters)

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, said in a statement on May 9 that the “sanctions-busting ship is now out of service.”

“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,” he stated. “We are deeply committed to the role the Justice Department plays in applying maximum pressure to the North Korean regime to cease its belligerence.”

Missiles are seen launched during a military drill in North Korea
Missiles are seen launched during a military drill in North Korea, in this photo supplied by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 10, 2019. (KCNA via Reuters)

On the morning of May 9, South Korean officials said missiles were fired from Kusong, located in the northwestern part of North Korea. They traveled about 260 miles toward the east, the Yonhap News Agency reported.

The move on May 9 is the first time a North Korean cargo vessel was seized for violating sanctions, said Demers.

North Korea was engaging in a scheme to export coal to foreign buyers by concealing the origin of the ship, he said, adding that it allowed the country to evade sanctions.

“Our counterintelligence efforts are squarely focused on protecting the American people. This seizure should serve as a clear signal that we will not allow foreign adversaries to use our financial systems to fund weapons programs which will be used to threaten our nation,” said FBI Assistant Director in Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. in a news release.

north korea missile
A missile is seen launched during a military drill in North Korea, in this photo supplied by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 10, 2019. (KCNA via Reuters)

The missiles had an altitude of about 30 miles and hit the East Sea, known as the Sea of Japan, Yonhap reported, citing South Korea’s Defense Military. “Our military has strengthened surveillance and vigilance in case of a further launch from North Korea, and has maintained a full-fledged posture in close coordination with the United States,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

“At the moment, we don’t see any situation that would immediately impact on Japan’s security,” Japan’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement, according to the news agency. The ministry said the projectiles didn’t land in Japan’s territorial waters.

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump talk in the garden of the Metropole hotel during the second North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Feb. 28, 2019. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

President Donald Trump on May 9 noted that “North Korea has tremendous potential economically,” adding that he doesn’t believe the country wants to jeopardize it.

“We’re looking at it very seriously right now,” Trump said of North Korea missile launch. “Nobody’s happy about it.”

The president said he hopes the dialogue between North Korea and the United States continues, but also added, “I don’t think they’re ready to negotiate.”

Harry Kazianis, of Washington’s Center for the National Interest think tank, told Reuters that the new missile launches might only worsen tensions.

“While this recent launch of short-range missiles does not violate Pyongyang’s promise to halt longer-range tests, North Korea has now made it clear it will not halt developing other parts of its military capabilities that threaten the region,” he said.

“Kim’s goal, beyond ensuring his weapons programs are becoming more powerful, is quite clear: to show America and its allies that … they aren’t willing to compromise on the terms of denuclearization,” he continued.

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un supervises a military drill in North Korea
North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un supervises a military drill in North Korea, in this photo supplied by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 10, 2019. (KCNA via Reuters)
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