This undated photo released by the US Justice Dept, May 9, 2019, shows the DPRK cargo ship Wise Honest. The Trump administration says it has seized a DPRK cargo ship that US officials say was used to transport coal in violation of international sanctions. (DEPPARTMENT OF JUSTICE VIA AP)
WASHINGTON — The US said Thursday that it has seized a Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) cargo ship that was used to violate international sanctions, a first-of-its kind enforcement action that comes amid a tense moment in relations between the two countries.
The "Wise Honest," DPRK's second largest cargo ship, was detained in April 2018 as it traveled toward Indonesia. It's now in the process of being moved to American Samoa, Justice Department officials said.
The "Wise Honest," DPRK's second largest cargo ship, was detained in April 2018 as it traveled toward Indonesia
Officials made the announcement hours after DPRK fired two suspected short-range missiles toward the sea, the second weapons launch in five days and a possible signal that stalled talks over its nuclear weapons program are in trouble. The public disclosure that the vessel is now in US custody may further inflame tensions, though US officials said the timing of their complaint was not a response to the missile launch.
Justice Department lawyers laid out the case for confiscating the ship in a complaint filed in New York, arguing that payments for maintenance and operation of the vessel were channeled through unwitting US financial institutions in violation of American law. The coal trade itself is also believed to fund the isolated country's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
"When nations who have stated an intent to do harm to the United States evade international sanctions, Americans become less safe," said Geoffrey Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York.
This satellite image provided by the Department of Justice shows what the DoJ says is the DPRK cargo ship Wise Honest docked at a unknown port. (DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE VIA AP)
Asked whether DPRK's largest merchant ship was similarly involved in illegal coal exports, Demers said that he did not know, but added, "If it is, we'd love to get our hands on it."
President Donald Trump and DPRK leader Kim Jong-un have held two summits focused on the country's nuclear program but have made no discernible progress toward a deal that would eliminate its weapons. At the White House on Thursday, Trump said the US was looking "very seriously right now" at DPRK's recent military tests.
HONG KONG NEWS