South Korea seizes Hong Kong ship over North Korea oil transfer

South Korean authorities seized a Hong Kong tanker after it was found to have secretly transferred 600 tons of refined petroleum to a North Korean vessel in global waters in October, in a brazen breach of United Nations sanctions.

South Korean authorities have seized a Panama-flagged vessel suspected of transferring oil products to North Korea in violation of global sanctions, a customs official said on Sunday.

The vessel, named KOTI, was seized at Pyeongtaek-Dangjin port, on the west coast south of Incheon, an official told Reuters on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the information.

Russian Federation denied the reports on Saturday, saying via its foreign ministry that it "fully observes fully the sanctions regime" against North Korea.

The Lighthouse Winmore, which was chartered by a Taiwanese company, was impounded by South Korean customs authorities at the port of Yeosu on Nov 24 following an inspection. "China will continue to participate in the work of the relevant Security Council sanctions committee on this principle", its foreign ministry said in a statement.

The announcement is the second of its kind this week, further highlighting the of use of ship-to-ship cargo transfers banned by United Nations resolutions.

The seizure follows that of the Lighthouse Winmore, another oil tanker which Seoul claims supplied fuel products to North Korea in October, in breach of UN Resolution 2375.

President Trump lashed out at China, which he has been pressuring to exert influence over major trading partner North Korea to curb its weapons development programs, on Twitter. On the same day, a Chinese vessel was seen transferring oil to North Korea's Rye Song Gang 1 ship in U.S. Treasury Department's satellite images first published in the South Korean newspaper The Chosun Ilbo earlier this week, one of 30 such instances reported in three months.

The Hong Kong government said in a statement Friday it had noted media reports that the Lighthouse Winmore had been seized.

The KOTI's ties to China also seem clear, the tanker is run by companies operating out of Hong Kong and Dalian, two well-known hubs for North Korean sanctions evasion.

Last week the UN Security Council unanimously adopted new sanctions on North Korea in response to Pyongyang's November 29 ballistic missile test, seeking to further strangle its energy supplies and tighten restrictions on smuggling and the use of North Korean workers overseas.

CNN's Taehoon Lee reported from in Seoul, Lauren Said-Moorhouse wrote from London while Yuli Yang and James Griffiths contributed from Hong Kong.


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