The United States has seized North Korean cargo ship the M/V Wise Honest for the first time, alleging it was used to haul coal for sale to other countries, a violation of sanctions.
The illegal sale of North Korean coal to China, Russia and other countries is being used to fund Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missiles program according to the U.S. and the United Nations. North Korea is a strong ally of Iran and Syria, and has helped both with their ballistic missile and nuclear development programs.
A U.S. judge in New York issued a warrant in July 2018 authorizing seizure of the ship, now in the process of being moved to American Samoa, according to officials at the Justice Department.
The nationality of the 581-foot (177 meters) Wise Honest and the origin of its cargo was disguised by North Korea, according to the complaint, which alleged the vessel was used for coal transports to ports in China, Russia and other countries.
“This sanctions-busting ship is now out of service,” Assistant Attorney-General John Demers, head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, said in a statement.
“We are deeply committed to the role the Justice Department plays in applying maximum pressure to the North Korean regime to cease its belligerence.
“”The U.S. sanctions against North Korea reflect the threat these programs pose to U.S. national security,” Demers added.
The ship was intercepted by Indonesian maritime authorities on April 2, 2018, and detained, as it sailed south with its safety tracking equipment turned off, carrying a load of coal from North Korea.
The North Korean captain of the ship was arrested and charged with violations of Indonesian maritime law, according to the complaint. He was convicted in an Indonesian court in November 2018 of “offenses related to improper documentation for the ship,” according to CNN.
The seizure warrant was unsealed Thursday, just a few days following the launch by Pyongyang of two new short-range ballistic missiles and weeks after a second, failed summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump.
“I don’t think they’re ready to negotiate,” President Trump said Thursday after the ship’s seizure was announced. “No one is happy about this.”