U.S. seizes control of North Korean cargo ship used to skirt international sanctions

May 9, 2019

The United States has seized a North Korean cargo ship used to illegally ship coal and heavy machinery in violation of international sanctions, the Justice Department said Thursday.

It is the first time the U.S. has ever seized a North Korean cargo vessel for violating sanctions imposed by the U.S. and the United Nations Security Council, according to a Justice Department official.

The ship is approaching U.S. territorial waters, a Justice Department official said.

The 16,601 bulk cargo ship, named “Wise Honest,” is said to be one of North Korea’s largest carries of illicit goods, according to the Justice Department.

“This sanctions-busting ship is now out of service,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Demars in a statement announcing the seizure.

U.S. officials are seeking to seize control of the ship through a civil forfeiture action, filed in a New York federal court. The Justice Department says it has a right to take the ship because payments to maintain and equip the vessel were made in U.S. dollars through unwitting U.S. banks.

The move follows a March U.N. report alleging North Korea is skirting international sanctions through smuggling and other tactics that enable it to import coal, oil and other goods to China.