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U.S. Seizes North Korean Ship for Violating Sanctions

Kim Jong-un gives field guidance to the newly-built Pyongyang City Mushroom Farm in an undated photo released by the Korean Central News Agency, January 10, 2015. (North Korea News Agency/via Reuters)

U.S. authorities have seized a North Korean ship that was transporting coal in violation of international sanctions, the Department of Justice announced Thursday.

The North Korean ship, the Wise Honest, is the first seized by U.S. authorities over sanctions violations. It is now approaching U.S. territorial waters accompanied by the U.S. Marshals and Coast Guard.

“This sanctions-busting ship is now out of service,” Assistant Attorney General John Demers said in announcing the seizure.

U.S. banks, unaware of the Wise Honest‘s home port, financed its servicing and equipment, according to the Department of Justice.

A civil complaint seeking the ship’s forfeiture was filed in the Southern District of New York on Thursday after the ship was taken into U.S. custody. The complaint indicates that a warrant was issued for the seizure in July 2018, after Indonesian authorities seized the ship and convicted its North Korean captain of “offenses related to improper documentation for the ship.”

The seizure comes after North Korea launched two short-range missiles early Thursday morning in its second weapons test in less than a week.

“The US and South Korean intelligence authority is conducting analysis for additional information,” the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. “Our military has currently heightened its surveillance and alertness against possible additional launches, whilst maintaining combat readiness in close coordination with the US.”

The latest round of missile testing and the seizure of a North Korean vessel appear to further jeopardize any chance of gradual North Korean denuclearization, discussion of which began during last year’s summit between Kim Jong-un and President Trump.

Despite a rhetorical commitment to improving relations, the summit concluded prematurely after Kim demanded the dismissal of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and a complete lifting of U.S. sanctions before any progress toward denuclearization could be made.

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