A North Korean ship under scrutiny for more than a week by the US Navy has changed course and was heading back the way it came, US officials said as Pyongyang warned yesterday it would take military action if anyone attempted to search its vessels.
The Kang Nam 1 — originally believed bound for Myanmar with suspicious cargo on board, possibly illicit weapons — turned around and headed back north on Sunday, two US officials said on condition of anonymity.
The US officials, speaking in Washington on Tuesday, said they did not know where the ship was going. But it was about 400km south of Hong Kong on Tuesday and was heading north, one official said.
The North Korean ship is the first vessel monitored under UN sanctions aimed at punishing the regime for conducting an underground nuclear test in May.
The new resolution seeks to clamp down on North Korea’s trading of banned arms and weapons-related material by requiring UN member states to request inspections of ships suspected of carrying prohibited cargo.
The communist nation has said it would consider interception of its ships a declaration of war. Yesterday, North Korea’s main Rodong Sinmun newspaper renewed the warning.
“Touching our ships constitutes a grave military provocation against our country,” the paper said in commentary carried by the official Korean Central News Agency. “These acts will be followed immediately by self-defensive military countermeasures.”
The North’s warning did not specifically mention the Kang Nam 1, which the two US officials said has been moving very slowly in recent days in a possible sign it is trying to conserve fuel. The resolution prohibits UN members from providing fuel to ships suspected of carrying banned items.
The officials said they did not know what the ship’s turnaround means, nor what prompted it.
Myanmar’s authorities had informed the North Korean ambassador that the UN member nation would not allow the Kang Nam to dock if it was carrying weapons or other banned materials, a Radio Free Asia report said.
A US delegation headed by envoy Philip Goldberg, meanwhile, headed yesterday for Beijing to discuss the UN sanctions, the State Department said. Goldberg, a former ambassador, is in charge of coordinating the sanctions’ implementation.
Meanwhile, the North’s regime has sought to whip up anti-US sentiment among its hunger-stricken people with a series of state-organized rallies. KCNA said yesterday the latest anti-US demonstrations were held through Tuesday in three provinces.