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South Korea seizes Hong Kong ship for oil transfer to North

South Korea briefly seized and inspected a Hong Kong-registered ship in November for transferring oil products to a North Korean vessel and breaching UN sanctions, a foreign ministry official said Friday.

The Lighthouse Winmore, which was chartered by a Taiwanese company and carrying around 600 tonnes of oil products from South Korea’s Yeosu port, transferred part of its cargo to a North Korean vessel on October 19, the official said.

South Korean customs authorities briefly seized and inspected the ship when it returned to Yeosu Port on November 24, he added.

The ship, chartered by Taiwanese company Billions Bunker Group Corp., previously visited Yeosu on October 11 to load up on Japanese refined oil before heading towards its purported destination in Taiwan.

Instead of going to Taiwan, however, the vessel transferred the oil to the North’s Sam Jong 2 as well as to three other non-North Korean vessels in international waters, the official said.

“This marks a typical case of North Korea shrewdly circumventing UN Security Council sanctions by using its illegal networks,” the official told journalists.

“The actions taken will be reported to the UN Security Council sanctions committee on North Korea in the future,” he said.

South Korea has shared intelligence with the US about the detection of the illegal transaction, he added.

Taipei said the Billions Bunker Group is not incorporated in Taiwan but in the Marshall Islands, and that it would “continue to fully comply” with UN sanctions against North Korea.

Taiwan’s transport ministry said it is investigating whether any Taiwanese entities were involved.

The Lighthouse Winmore came to Taiwan twice this year to “load supplies”, the ministry added, but gave no further details.

The ship is owned by a Hong Kong-registered company called Win More Shipping Limited. There was nobody Friday at the address given for the firm on Hong Kong’s companies registry.

The Sam Jong 2 was one of four North Korean ships that was blocked from international ports by the UN Security Council on Thursday over suspicions of carrying or transporting goods banned by sanctions targeting Pyongyang’s weapons ambitions, diplomats told AFP.

The Security Council has imposed three sets of sanctions on North Korea this year: one on August 5 targeting the iron, coal and fishing industries, another set on September 11 aimed at textiles and limiting oil supply, and the most recent on December 22 focused on refined petroleum products.