Sun, Dec 31, 2017 - Page 1 News List

Russia supplying N Korea: sources

TRANSPONDER TANGO:A number of Russian tankers disabled their tracking systems in open waters, where they allegedly transferred oil to North Korean vessels

Reuters, LONDON and MOSCOW

Russian tankers have supplied fuel to North Korea on at least three occasions in recent months by transferring cargoes at sea, two senior western European security sources said, providing an economic lifeline to the secretive communist state.

The sales of oil or oil products from Russia, the world’s second-biggest oil exporter and a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council, breach UN sanctions, the sources said.

“Russian vessels have made ship-to-ship transfers of petrochemicals to North Korean vessels on several occasions this year, in breach of sanctions,” said the first source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A second source, who independently confirmed the existence of the Russian ship-to-ship fuel trade with North Korea, said there was no evidence of Russian state involvement in the latest transfers.

“There is no evidence that this is backed by the Russian state, but these Russian vessels are giving a lifeline to the North Koreans,” the second source said.

The sources cited naval intelligence and satellite imagery of the vessels operating out of Russian ports on the Pacific, but declined to disclose further details.

When asked on Wednesday whether Russian ships had supplied fuel to North Korean vessels, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Russian Federal Customs Service declined to comment.

The owner of one ship accused of smuggling oil to North Korea denied any such activity.

The US Department of State issued a statement calling on Russia and other UN members to “strictly implement” sanctions on North Korea and to work “more closely together to shut down UN-prohibited activities, including ship-to-ship transfers of refined petroleum and the transport of coal from North Korea.”

Reuters was unable to independently verify that the vessels had transferred fuel to North Korean vessels, whether the Russian state knew about the sales or how many Russian vessels were involved in the transfers.

It was also unclear how much fuel might have been smuggled.

Ship satellite positioning data consulted by Reuters and available on Reuters Eikon showed unusual movements by some of the Russian vessels named by the sources, including the switching off of transponders that give a precise location.

The sources said the Russian-flagged tanker Vityaz was one vessel that had transferred fuel to North Korean vessels.

The Vityaz left the port of Slavyanka near Vladivostok, Russia, on Oct. 15 with 1,600 tonnes of oil, Russian port control documents showed.

Documents submitted by the vessel’s agent to Russia’s port control authority showed its destination as a fishing fleet in the Sea of Japan.

Shipping data showed the vessel switched off its transponder for a few days as it sailed into open waters.

The sources said the Vityaz then conducted a ship-to-ship transfer with the North Korean-flagged Sam Ma 2 tanker in open seas.

Reuters could not independently verify the transfer, as ship tracking data showed that the Sam Ma 2 had turned off its transponder from the start of August.

The owner of the Russian vessel denied any contact with North Korean vessels, but also said it was unaware that the vessel was fueling fishing boats.

Two other Russian-flagged tankers made similar journeys between the middle of October and last month, leaving from the Russian ports of Slavyanka and Nakhodka into open seas, where they switched off their transponders, shipping data showed.

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