The South Korean government announced that it seized the Lighthouse Winmore, a Hong Kong-flagged tanker carrying Japanese oil, in late November.
The ship, chartered by the Taiwanese company Billions Bunker Group, was loaded with 600 tons of refined Japanese petroleum and supposedly bound for Taiwan when it was originally inspected in the South Korean port of Yeosu in October.
However, it is suspected that the ship actually transferred that load to the awaiting North Korean tanker Sam Jong 2 while in international waters on October 19, after leaving port in Yeosu.
North Korea is currently under UN Security Council sanctions that prohibit it from importing more than 2 million barrels of refined petroleum annually. Ship-to-ship transfers of any goods are also expressly forbidden by UN Security Council Resolution 2375, which was passed in September.
No safe harbor
China, which is one of North Korea's largest suppliers of oil , announced that it had not sold any oil to Pyongyang for the last two months. Beijing drew the ire of US President Donald Trump who accused China of undermining UN sanctions, tweeting that it had been "caught red-handed," and adding he was "very disappointed."
Beijing denied any wrongdoing and said that it would punish any such actions should they be found to have happened. The US has also proposed that the UN Security Council blacklist ten ships for conducting illicit trade with North Korea. Should the ships be blacklisted they would not be allowed to enter UN member states' ports.
A spokesman for the South Korean Foreign Ministry, speaking of the accusations ship-to-ship trade, said, "This is one of the main ways in which North Korea uses an illegal network to circumvent UN Security Council sanctions."
Crew in custody
Currently, the crew of the Lighthouse Winmore, which consists of 23 Chinese and two Myanmar nationals, remains in South Korean custody. Seoul says the crew will not be released until authorities have completed their investigation. South Korea intends to inform the UN Security Council's sanctions committee of the findings of that investigation.