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South Korea seizes Hong Kong ship for oil transfer to North Korea

South Korea seizes Hong Kong ship for oil transfer to North Korea

HONG KONG: On Thursday, President Donald Trump accused China of “allowing oil to go into North Korea”. South Korea said on Friday that in late November it seized a Hong Kong-flagged ship, the Lighthouse Winmore, suspected of transferring oil to North Korea.

The Lighthouse Winmore, a Hong Kong-flagged ship, is seen in waters off Yeosu, South Korea.

In an interview with The New York Times, published Thursday, Trump claimed “oil is going into North Korea” and appeared to blame China, saying if Beijing fails to put pressure on Pyongyang then the United States may take punitive economic actions against Beijing.

“I have been soft on China because the only thing more important to me than trade is war”, he said. Beijing though is adamant that it has done nothing wrong.

“We will never allow Chinese citizens and enterprises to engage in activities that violate Security Council resolutions”.

South Korean authorities were quick to substantiate President Trump’s accusations against China, seeming to confirm the fears of the UN Security Council.

According to the wire service, “two senior Western European security sources” claim that Russian tankers have transferred fuel cargo at sea to North Korea at least three times over the past few months, an apparent violation of United Nations sanctions.

South Korea’s customs service concluded that the Lighthouse Winmore had loaded about 14,000 tons of Japanese refined petroleum products in South Korea on October 11, reportedly bound for Taiwan, the South Korea official said.

Instead of going to Taiwan, however, the vessel transferred the oil to the North’s Sam Jong 2 as well as to three other non-North Korean vessels in worldwide waters, the official said.

“The Hong Kong-flagged ship was chartered by Taiwanese company Billions Bunker Group and previously visited South Korea’s Yeosu Port on October 11 to load up on Japanese refined oil and head to its claimed destination in Taiwan, the authorities noted”.

Trump’s criticism of China came after the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo, quoting anonymous sources, reported that United States spy satellites have spotted 30 ship-to-ship transfers of oil and other products since October in worldwide waters between North Korea and China.

“There will never be a friendly solution to the North Korea problem if this continues to happen!” the president said, without citing the source of his information. Not just that, the images reportedly also show the names of the ships and one of them, connected to a Chinese ship to receive oil, has been identified as Rye Song Gang 1, which was sanctioned on November 21.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was asked by reporters on Friday whether the U.S. Navy might become involved in seizing vessels suspected of transferring oil to North Korea.

The US Treasury Department released satellite imagery in November of two ships allegedly performing an illegal ship-to-ship transfer in worldwide waters on the same day. The tanker is chartered by Taiwanese-owned company Billion Bunker Group, which is registered to an address in the Ajeltake town of the Majuro atoll in the Marshall Islands included in theInternational Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ Offshore Leaks Database.

China on Thursday blocked a US effort at the United Nations to blacklist six foreign-flagged ships – five of which were mainland-China- or Hong Kong-owned – that Washington believes had engaged in illicit trade with North Korea, a U.N. Security Council diplomat said. The ministry noted that resolutions by the U.N. Security Council have imposed limits on North Korea’s refined oil imports but have not banned it all together.

The Lighthouse Winmore has no immediate connections to the Chinese government; the ship is now being leased by a Taiwanese company called Billions Bunker Group Corporation.

Ship tracking data in Thomson Reuters Eikon shows that the Lighthouse Winmore has mainly been doing supply runs between China and Taiwan since August.