United States seized N. Korean ship accused of violating United Nations sanctions

US seizes North Korean cargo ship for violating sanctions

North Korea fired two short-range missiles in its second test in five days Thursday and the USA seized a North Korean cargo ship as tensions escalated between the two countries.

The US Justice Department said that the Wise Honest was stopped off Indonesia last month. It's now in the process of being moved to American Samoa, Justice Department officials said.

It was the first time a North Korean cargo vessel had been seized for sanctions violation, after several years of high seas cat-and-mouse games in which Korean shippers disguised vessels, used false flags and turned off their tracking transponders to avoid discovery.

The U.S. government announced the seizure of North Korean cargo ship allegedly used to sell coal in violation of global sanctions.

"This sanctions-busting ship is now out of service", Assistant Attorney General Demers said in a news release.

The announcement came just hours after the North launched the missiles. "We are willing and able to deploy the full array of law enforcement tools to detect, deter and prosecute North Korea's deceptive attempts to evade sanctions", he said.

"We've been pursuing this for months", said Geoffrey Berman, the USA attorney for the Southern District of NY, where prosecutors filed a civil complaint against the ship for violating USA sanctions. Recently, Indonesian authorities allowed the ship to offload its coal cargo onto another vessel, which departed for Malaysia.

Songi Trading Corporation, a subordinate of the Korean People's Army, used "unwitting US financial institutions" while paying $750,000 for improvements to the Wise Honest - a breach of a longstanding federal law prohibiting USA banks from providing service to North Korean parties, officials said.

The vessel was owned by a subsidiary of a North Korean shipping company that is controlled by the country's military and is on a Treasury Department sanctions list, officials said.

Based on the illicit shipping effort and financing of transactions related to the ship that were put through USA banks, a U.S. judge issued a warrant to seize the vessel on July 17, 2018. Nuclear-armed North Korea launched four ballistic missiles on March 6 in another challenge to President Donald Trump, with three landing provocatively close to America's ally Japan. The move marks an escalation of USA government pressure on Pyongyang, even as President Donald Trump has spoken glowingly about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. But Justice Department officials insist the decision to take possession of the Wise Honest is unrelated to the drills.

The Songi Trading Corporation is a subordinate of North Korea's army, the government said.

Court documents said the ship was used to haul coal as well as heavy machinery, including 412,584 kilograms of "steel plate". When the ship travelled to Indonesia, it tried to hide details about its location by disabling its Automatic Identification System.

The 581-foot (177 metres) Wise Honest was used for coal transports to ports in China, Russia and other countries, according to the complaint, generating badly needed revenue to a country that is under United Nations sanctions because of its nuclear weapons program.

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