North Korea

Crew of Hong Kong ship accused of transferring oil to North Korean vessel questioned in South Korea

Lighthouse Winmore’s 23 Chinese and two Myanmese crew have been detained since November, customs officials say

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 December, 2017, 11:57am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 December, 2017, 12:02pm

The crew of a Hong Kong-registered ship have been detained for questioning in South Korea since the tanker was impounded in November for transferring oil to a North Korean vessel and breaching UN sanctions, customs officials said on Saturday.

The Lighthouse Winmore, which was chartered by a Taiwanese company, was impounded by South Korean customs authorities at the port of Yeosu on November 24 following an inspection.

“Since then, inspectors have been coming on board and questioning the crew”, a Korea Customs Service official said.

The tanker has 25 crew members – 23 Chinese citizens and two Myanmar nationals – another customs official at Yeosu said. He could not clarify whether the Chinese were from the mainland or Hong Kong.

The Lighthouse Winmore, chartered by Billions Bunker Group, visited Yeosu on October 11 and loaded up with about 14,000 tonnes of Japanese refined oil before heading towards its purported destination in Taiwan.

Instead of going to Taiwan, however, the vessel transferred 600 tonnes of oil to the North Korean vessel Sam Jong 2 in international waters off China before returning to Yeosu, the customs service officials said.

South Korea seizes Hong Kong tanker after ‘oil delivery to North Korean ship’

A foreign ministry official in Seoul said earlier that the ship had been seized briefly by customs authorities who inspected it.

The results of the investigation would be reported to the UN Security Council’s sanctions committee, foreign ministry officials said.

The Lighthouse Winmore is one of 10 ships the United States has asked the Security Council to blacklist for violating sanctions against North Korea.

Taipei said 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.

Trump says China caught ‘red-handed allowing oil’ to reach North Korea

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

The ship is owned by a Hong Kong-registered company called Win More Shipping Ltd. On Friday there was nobody at the address given for the firm on Hong Kong’s Companies Registry.

Four ships – three North Korean vessels and a Palau-flagged oil tanker – were 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, according to the final list adopted by the world body.

While the Sam Jong 2 was not among those four, it does appear, along with the Lighthouse Winmore, on a list of six other ships suspected of transporting illicit cargo.

China stops all exports of oil products to North Korea in November

The US has asked the Security Council to blacklist all 10 vessels, but China objected to the proposal, diplomats said, and agreed only to blacklist four ships on Thursday.

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 on September 11 aimed at textiles and limiting oil supply, and the most recent on December 22 focused on refined petroleum products.