Jul 31, 2021 06:56 UTC
  • US seizes tanker carrying fuel to North Korea; Kim tells army to be ready

The United States has seized a Singaporean-owned tanker vessel over alleged violation of international sanctions by making shipments of petroleum products to North Korea.

The US Justice Department (DoJ) announced in a statement on Friday the seizure of a 2,734-ton tanker it said was owned and operated by a Singaporean national and used to transfer oil products to North Korean vessels and to make direct shipments to the North Korean port of Nampo.

The DoJ said in the statement that the oil tanker M/T Courageous was seized by Cambodian authorities in March 2020 in accordance with a US warrant.

"Criminal charges of conspiracy to evade economic sanctions on the DPRK and money laundering conspiracy are pending against the alleged owner and operator of the Courageous, Kwek Kee Seng, a Singaporean national who remains at large," the department said, using the acronym of North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

The statement stopped short of saying why the charges against Kwek had not yet been brought more than a year after the ship was seized but added that a New York federal court had entered a judgment of forfeiture regarding the vessel on Friday.

The DoJ statement claimed that over a four-month period between August and December 2019 the M/T Courageous stopped transmitting information of its location and during this time satellite imagery showed it transferring more than $1.5 million worth of oil to a North Korean ship, the Saebyol.

The statement added that payments to purchase the oil were made using US dollars through unwitting American banks in violation of US law and UN resolutions.

Kim stresses military readiness ahead of US-S Korea drills

Separately on Friday, the North Korean leader was reported to have met with the country’s military officers and called for stronger capability to cope with any foreign provocation ahead of annual drills between South Korea and the United States next month.

The official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said Kim held the workshop of military commanders and political officers from July 24-27 to discuss ways to enhance the North’s military strength.

During the meeting, Kim “stressed that commanders and political officers should focus all efforts on completing preparations for actively and offensively coping with any military provocation of enemies,” KCNA said.

Kim said “the hostile forces,” an apparent reference to the US and South Korea, were bolstering their capabilities for making a preemptive attack and intensifying "all sorts of frantic and persistent war drills for aggression.”

The North Korean leader ordered the country’s military officers to put greater efforts to boost their units' combat efficiency, KCNA added.