South Korea's Yonhap news agency, citing local maritime officials, reported on Sunday that the 5,100-ton KOTI had been seized at the country’s Pyeongtaek-Dangjin port some two weeks earlier, adding that her crew was being questioned over purported ship-to-ship transfers.
“The vessel is under inspection for alleged ties with North Korea,” an unnamed government official said, according to Yonhap.
The officials did not provide the exact arrival time of KOTI, but according to VesselFinder tracking service, her estimated arrival at the South Korean port, located on the west coast south of Incheon, was on December 19.
The report further said that the vessel could carry oil, at her full capacity, with a crew mostly from China and Myanmar, adding that South Korea’s intelligence and customs officials were carrying out a joint investigation into the ship.
South Korean authorities announced on Friday that they had briefly detained the Hong Kong-flagged Lighthouse Winmore, which is suspected of transferring some 600 tons of oil to the North Korea-flagged ship Sam Jong 2, at Yeosu Port on November 24.
They also alleged that the Lighthouse Winmore ship visited the South Korean port on October 11 and loaded some 14,000 ton of Japanese refined oil before heading towards its purported destination in Taiwan. Instead of going to Taiwan, South Korean authorities added, it “illegally” transferred a portion of her cargo to the North’s vessel in international waters off China.
Earlier this month, the UN Security Council (UNSC) unanimously imposed a fresh round of sanctions on North Korea for a recent intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test, seeking to further limit its access to refined petroleum products and crude oil. The US-drafted UNSC resolution seeks to ban nearly 90 percent of refined petroleum exports to North Korea by capping them at 500,000 barrels per year.
The Lighthouse Winmore is one of the 10 vessels proposed to be blacklisted; however, the KOTI does not seem to be included on the list.
On Friday, China strongly rejected allegations by the US that it had helped Pyongyang evade UN sanctions, following claims by US President Donald Trump that Beijing had allowed the transfer of oil to a North Korean ship.
North Korea has been under a raft of crippling UN sanctions since 2006 over its nuclear tests as well as multiple rocket and missile launches. Pyongyang has firmly defended its military program as a deterrent against the hostile policies of the US and its regional allies, including South Korea and Japan.
North Korea has already demanded a halt to what it called “brutal sanctions” imposed by the UNSC, saying the previous bans imposed after Pyongyang’s sixth and most powerful nuclear test on September 3 constitute “genocide.”