The United States has for the first time seized a North Korean cargo ship it accused of illicit coal shipments in violation of U.S. and United Nations sanctions, the U.S. Justice Department announced on Thursday, Trend reports citing Reuters.
The ship, known as the “Wise Honest,” was first detained by Indonesia in April 2018. Under an unusual U.S. civil forfeiture action, the vessel is now in the possession of the United States and is currently approaching U.S. territorial waters heading toward American Samoa, U.S. Justice Department officials said.
The announcement comes after North Korea fired what appeared to be two short-range missiles on Thursday, its second such test in less than a week and an apparent protest by leader Kim Jong Un after U.S. President Donald Trump rejected his calls for sanctions relief at a summit in February.
The United States filed its seizure warrant for the ship under seal in July 2018, but department officials said the timing of its unsealing on Thursday was unrelated to the missile launches.
“There is no connection at all between the recent activities by North Korea,” said Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. “We have been pursuing this for months.”
The Justice Department said in a statement that the Wise Honest was used by Korea Songi Shipping Company, which it accused of paying U.S. dollars through unwitting U.S. financial institutions - in violation of U.S. laws - for improvements, equipment purchases, and service expenditures for the vessel.
“Payments totaling more than $750,000 were transmitted through accounts at a U.S. financial institution in connection with the March 2018 shipment of coal on board the Wise Honest,” the statement said.
The North Korean mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The U.N. Security Council has unanimously strengthened sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, banning exports including coal, iron, lead, textiles and seafood, and capping imports of crude oil and refined petroleum products.