The United States has seized a North Korean cargo ship, alleging sanctions violations by the country, the Justice Department said Thursday.
The Wise Honest, which was transporting 25,500 tons of coal worth $2.99 million at the time of its impoundment in Indonesia, tried to avoid detection by illegally registering under the jurisdictions of two countries.
Though the Justice Department obtained a sealed seizure warrant for the ship in July, officials said the timing of the complaint seeking the vessel's forfeiture had nothing to do with the current tensions between the two countries.
Korea Songi, reportedly a subsidiary of a company controlled by the North Korean military, is additionally charged with breaking American law by using three different U.S. banks to pay for the ship's upkeep to the tune of $750,000.
Geoffrey Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of NY, said his office "uncovered North Korea's scheme to export tons of high-grade coal to foreign buyers by concealing the origin of their ship, the Wise Honest".
"This sanctions-busting ship is now out of service", said Assistant Attorney General John Demers, the head of the Justice Department's National Security Division.
"North Korea, and the companies that help it evade U.S. and United Nations sanctions, should know that we will use all tools at our disposal - including a civil forfeiture action such as this one or criminal charges - to enforce the sanctions".
This seizure comes on the same day that North Korea was reported to have launched two projectiles suspected to be short-range missiles.
The complaint was filed in US District Court in Manhattan on Thursday by the US attorney's office for the Southern District of NY.More news: Hazard fires Chelsea to Europa League final clash with Arsenal
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The "Wise Honest", North Korea's second largest cargo ship, was detained in April 2018 as it travelled toward Indonesia. Prosecutors said the ship was also used to haul heavy machinery into North Korea, including 412,584 kilograms of "steel plate". Payments to maintain the vessel were reportedly made in American currency routed through unwitting American banks. He was speaking of the February meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and American President Donald Trump.
The US Special Representative on North Korea Stephen Biegun is now in South Korea to discuss ways of getting the denuclearisation talks back on track.
He said about North Korea, "I believe they will keep escalating by using what appear to be short-range missiles, something that will not cause the U.S.to react right away".
The UN Security Council has imposed five rounds of sanctions against North Korea since early 2016, when Pyongyang conducted its fourth nuclear test.
"I don't think they're ready to negotiate", President Trump said Thursday after the ship's seizure was announced.
United Nations sanctions Resolution 2371, adopted in August 2017, bans all North Korean exports of coal, iron, lead and seafood.
Trump told reporters Thursday that the U.S. "North Korea has now made it clear it will not halt developing other parts of its military capabilities that threaten the region", he said.
"North Korea doesn't have many big ships it can use for exports".