US takes aim at North Korean reflags

The US is stepping up efforts to enforce sanctions on North Korea
The US is stepping up efforts to enforce sanctions on North Korea

As part of tightening economic sanctions against North Korea, the United States is stepping up efforts to prohibit Pyongyang from using illicit flag registries – particularly among Pacific Island nations – to evade them.

A US-sponsored workshop held in July in Suva, Fiji, focused “on performing due diligence to ensure vessels registered or applying for registry do not have any links to the DPRK”, according to the US State Department.

“The United States supports efforts by the Pacific Islands to fully implement UN Security Council sanctions on North Korea. To help Pacific Island leaders meet the commitments they made at the PIF [Pacific Island Forum] in 2017, we are supporting regional capacity-building for Pacific shipping registries, in partnership with Australia, New Zealand, and the PIF Secretariat.”

The workshop has already led to increased information sharing among the Pacific Islands, the State Department noted, adding that it plans to hold a follow-up conference in November “to continue to build technical capacity in this area and address key shipping security issues”.

The United States partners on maritime security in the Pacific through shiprider agreements with 10 Pacific Island countries, as overseen by the US Coast Guard and the Oceania Maritime Security Initiative.

The agreements allow local law enforcement officers to embark on US Coast Guard and US Navy vessels to observe, protect, board, and search vessels suspected of violating laws or regulations within their Exclusive Economic Zones or on the high seas.

The US and Fiji plan to sign a shiprider agreement shortly, the US State Department confirmed in September, while the US is also working to finalise agreements with Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.