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Philippines impounds N. Korean ship under UN sanctions
  |Wed, 09 March 2016 12:00|Deplomacy| Page Views : 438



  The Philippines said on Monday it had impounded a North Korean ship, becoming the first country to enforce tough new sanctions imposed on the state last week.

Despite flying a Sierra Leone flag, the Jin Teng was seized on Monday on suspicions the vessel was operated by a North Korean shipping group that had been blacklisted by the UN and faced an asset freeze.

This is in compliance with the UN Security Council resolution that calls for sanctions,” said Charles Jose, a spokesperson for the Philippine foreign ministry. “The most important thing is to impound the vessel so it cannot engage in economic activity that could benefit North Korea.”

The UN Security Council last week voted unanimously to introduce new sanctions on North Korea, including compulsory inspections of cargo entering and leaving the country, in response to Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test and a long-range rocket launch earlier this year.

Manila’s actions add to tensions in the region. Last week North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered the country’s nuclear weapons to be placed on standby in protest against the UN sanctions.

South Korea planned to announce its own sanctions against North Korea on Tuesday to follow up the UN Security Council resolution. Under those sanctions, vessels that had previously called at a North Korean port would be banned from entering South Korean ports, according to Seoul’s state-run Yonhap News, in a blow to North Korea’s external trade.

Apart from the UN resolution, Seoul would also impose financial sanctions on dozens of individuals and institutions linked to North Korea’s development of weapons of mass destruction. A three-way logistics project that transports Russian coal to South Korea through a North Korean port would also likely be scrapped, Yonhap said.

The impounded vessel, moored north-west of Manila in Subic Bay, was believed by the Philippines to be operated by Ocean Maritime Management.

OMM has faced an asset freeze since 2014, when it was blacklisted by the UN for operating the Chong Chon Gang, a ship detained the previous year by Panama when it was en route to Cuba carrying arms including two jet fighters concealed under thousands of bags of sugar.

OMM has continued to operate through multiple front companies and representative offices to evade sanctions, according to the US government.

The Philippines coast guard conducted two investigations of the Jin Teng, which was carrying palm kernels from Indonesia. Mr Jose added that nothing “that could be used for North Korea’s nuclear programme” had been found on board.

The crew, which includes 24 North Koreans, will be repatriated once investigations are complete.

Manila’s actions have raised questions about whether other Southeast Asian nations will follow suit and rigorously enforce the new sanctions, which could have economic consequences for nations with large shipping industries.

“The Philippines is a maritime nation but the volume of trade passing through wouldn’t be as great as Singapore or Hong Kong, so there might be less commercial impact,” said Euan Graham, director of the international security program at Australia’s Lowy Institute. “There is always a tension between security and economic efficiency of a port.”

Security analysts also warn that North Korea has historically used loyal diaspora communities to facilitate illegal activities, particularly in China.

Avantika Chilkoti


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