Caught Red Handed? Satellites Capture Chinese and Russian Ships Illegally Selling Oil to North Korea

Naval intelligence and satellite imagery have captured photographic evidence of ships originating from China and Russia supplying oil to North Korean ships which is a breach of economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations on the rogue state.

The United Nations imposed the sanctions on North Korea last September for the regime’s continued testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). Another round of tougher sanctions was covered in a new resolution in November which prohibited North Korea from importing natural gas and included a tighter cap on crude oil imports.

The U.S. Department of Treasury released satellite images that show vessels from China and North Korea engaging in the oil trade at the West Sea. One of the ships identified in the satellite images; the Rye Song Gang 1, was included in the November resolution and is registered as a vessel of the Korea Kumbyol Trading Company.

Meanwhile, security sources from Western Europe have also captured satellite images of Russian tankers supplying fuel to North Korean ships on at least three occasions. The Russian tankers are able to provide the oil by transferring cargoes at sea.

The same sources maintain there is no evidence the Russian government is behind the illegal sale of oil products to North Korea. However what is clear is that the cargo transfers in October and November have given a lifeline to Pyongyang.

The Foreign Ministry and Custom Service departments of Russia have declined to comment on the matter. But the owner of the ship, The Vityaz, identified in the images denied it was involved in illegal smuggling of oil to North Korea.

Based on entries in the Russian port control documents, The Vityaz left the port of Slavyanka in Russia last October 15 carrying a load of 1,600 tonnes of oil. Shipping data showed The Vityaz turned off its transponder after it had sailed into open waters.

The sources say The Vityaz transacted with the North Korean registered Sam Ma 2 oil tanker in October. Ship tracking data also showed that the Sam Ma 2 shut off its transponder last August.

The owner of the Vityaz, Alisa Ltd through its deputy director Yaroslav Guk said the company had no interactions with North Korean vessels.

While it has been acknowledged that both countries are trading partners of North Korea, China is its main supplier of oil products.

Hua Chunying, Beijing’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman issued a statement that they have no information supporting the allegations ships under China’s registry have been illegally trading with North Korea:

“The Chinese government has completely and strictly enforcing Security Council resolutions aimed at discouraging North Korea from developing nuclear and missile technology.”

U.S. President Donald Trump expressed his disappointment with China in a tweet that said the country was caught “red handed” illegally trading with North Korea and failing to uphold U.N. sanctions:

“Caught RED HANDED – very disappointed the China is allowing oil to go into North Korea. There will never be a friendly solution to the North Korea problem is this continues to happen!”

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