The United States Department of Justice has announced the filing of a civil forfeiture complaint and the seizure of M/V Wise Honest, a North Korea-registered 17,000 ton cargo vessel, for allegedly participating in a scheme between November 2016 and April 2018 that allowed North Korea to conceal the origin of the ship and to export high-grade coal to foreign buyers, and to deliver machinery to North Korea in violation of US and UN sanctions. The civil forfeiture action represents the first ever seizure of a North Korean cargo vessel for violating international sanctions.
According to the DOJ, the ship was used by an affiliate of the Korea Songi General Trading Corporation to carry coal and heavy machinery between North Korea and foreign purchasers. Songi Trading, which was determined by the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the US Department of the Treasury to be subordinate to the Korean People’s Army, was designated by OFAC in June, 2017 pursuant to Executive Order 13722. The DOJ reports that when foreign maritime authorities intercepted Wise Honest in April 2018, the ship had not broadcast the required automatic identification system signal for nearly nine months, and attempted to conceal the vessel’s North Korean origin. During the relevant period, Songi representatives used US dollars to pay approximately $750,000 through US financial institutions for improvements, services and equipment for the ship, in violation of US law.