Nah…not gonna happen. Let’s take a deeper dive shall we? First, the cargo ship was seized in April of last year for violating international sanctions. The ship was used to transport North Korean coal and heavy machinery to China and Russia and the money for ship operations were funneled through a few U.S. banks.
The United States enlisted foreign authorities, in this case Indonesia to seize the ship last year and only in recent weeks did the United States work to take ownership under asset forfeiture laws being controlled by the Southern District of New York. During the ship operations, the crew refused to use AIS since 2017, which is an automatic identification system required by all maritime vessels.
In this case, the Justice Department found that the vessel’s operator, Korea Songi Shipping Company, conducted over $750,000 worth of payments through unwitting U.S. banks to improve and maintain the ship. The vessel’s operating company is an affiliate of the Korea Songi General Trading Corporation, which Washington sanctioned in 2017 for its involvement in exporting North Korean coal. According to the Treasury Department, North Korea’s military owns this company. Additionally, the department targeted the Wise Honest for helping Pyongyang export coal and import heavy machinery, both of which are UN-sanctioned goods.
In April 2018, the Indonesian government first detained the Wise Honest when authorities observed the ship behaving erratically and then straying into Indonesian waters. Once detained, authorities discovered the vessel loaded with coal from Russia, thereby violating U.S. sanctions. The United States issued a warrant for the Wise Honest in July 2018, and Indonesia subsequently transferred the vessel to U.S. custody.
The Justice Department’s complaint strengthens U.S. leverage for future nuclear talks with Pyongyang by countering Kim’s efforts to intimidate Washington with missile tests. Washington should now bolster U.S. pressure on Pyongyang by addressing other vulnerabilities in the current sanctions regime.
For example, a UN Panel of Experts report assessed in March that financial sanctions against Pyongyang are the “most poorly implemented and actively evaded measures.” Thus, the panel advised member states to enhance financial oversight protocol by mandating stricter reporting measures when offering letters of credit, loans, and other financial transfers.
In the case of the Wise Honest, the Korea Songi Shipping Company made illicit payments through U.S. banks to finance the vessel’s maintenance. This indicates how Pyongygang seeks to evade sanctions even beyond the financial sector. A U.S. application of the UN panel’s recommendation could have a ripple effect, hampering all of North Korea’s sanctions evasion schemes. More details here.