UN sanctions two Panama-flagged tankers for North Korea links

An image released by the US State Department shows an allegedly illegal transfer involving Shang Yuan Bao and Myong Ryu 1. Credit: US State Department
An image released by the US State Department shows an allegedly illegal transfer involving Shang Yuan Bao and Myong Ryu 1. Credit: US State Department

Two Panamanian-flagged tankers are among three ships designated by the United Nations (UN) as allegedly breaking North Korean sanctions after being discovered carrying out ship-to-ship transfers in the East China Sea in June.

The US State Department’s International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN) Bureau on 26 October released high-quality images of the three ships engaged in the transfers.

The Panamanian-flagged tankers, the 6,031 dwt, 1982-built Shang Yuan Bao and 4,999 dwt, 1983-built New Regent, are linked to two Taiwan shipping companies, according to the Equasis website.

Shang Yuan Bao is owned by Jui Cheng Shipping in Kaohsiung, while New Regent is managed by Ocean Growth International Shipmanagement, also in Kaohsiung.

Juo Zong Ship Management, which is listed as managing Shang Yuan Bao, did not respond to inquiries on 29 October.

The third vessel is the North Korea-flagged, 2,070 dwt tanker Kum Un San 3, owned by Korea Kumunsan Shipping.

The three vessels join more than 80, mainly North Korea-flagged, ships currently sanctioned by the UN.

Ships designated by the UN, including Shang Yuan Bao and New Regent, must be deflagged and are also banned from all ports of UN-member states.

Welcoming the UN’s action, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said it “is necessary, as North Korea’s illicit shipping activities continue despite UN prohibitions on ship-to-ship transfers of any goods or items to or from North Korean vessels of any goods or items going to or coming from North Korea”.

The United States did not say how it obtained the images, but a raft of countries, including Australia, Canada, France, Japan, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, have stepped up their monitoring and surveillance activities to detect illicit, UN-prohibited North Korean maritime activities, with a particular focus on detecting and disrupting ship-to-ship transfers of refined petroleum to North Korean tankers in the East China Sea.

“North Korea continues regularly to employ deceptive tactics to evade UN sanctions. North Korea’s illicit imports of refined petroleum have substantially breached the UN sanctions cap on refined petroleum by making illicit transfers, and we urge that member states immediately end all sales of refined petroleum to North Korea,” Nauert said.

“UN member states are required to prohibit persons or entities, subject to their jurisdiction, from engaging in ship-to-ship transfers. The United States will impose sanctions on any individual, entity, or vessel supporting North Korea’s illicit activities.”

The images released by the state department show Shang Yuan Bao engaged in a ship-to-ship transfer, likely for oil, with UN-designated North Korean vessel Paek Ma on 18 May. Also included are images of Shang Yuan Bao engaged in a ship-to-ship transfer, likely for oil, with North Korean ship Myong Ryu 1 on 2 June and New Regent engaged in a ship-to-ship transfer, likely for oil, with Kum Un San 3 on 7 June. The two ships were seen linked together again on 7 June.

All the images show the ships connected by hoses to facilitate the transfers.

Other ships have been seen loading coal in North Korea and discharging the cargo in Vietnam and Port Klang, Malaysia, over the past 11 months, the UN said.