WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Navy intercepted a North Korean ship suspected of carrying missile parts to Myanmar two weeks ago, media reports and a U.S. official said on Monday.
The New York Times reported late on Sunday, citing senior American officials, that a North Korean cargo ship was forced to return home after a standoff at sea and several days of diplomatic pressure from Washington and Asian nations.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner confirmed the interception, but declined to comment on the cargo or destination of the North Korean vessel.
“We talked directly with the North Koreans to stress the importance of not engaging in proliferation-related transfers,” he said.
“We learned that the ship, the vessel, changed course at sea, and we believe it returned to North Korea,” said Toner.
U.N. sanctions imposed on North Korea after it conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009 include a ban on trade in nuclear and missile technology with North Korea. A U.N. resolution adopted last year authorized U.N. member states to inspect North Korean sea, air and land cargo.
According to the Times, the destroyer USS McCampbell caught up with the cargo ship M/V Light south of Shanghai on May 26 after American officials began tracking the vessel, which was believed to have been involved in previous illegal shipments.
The destroyer asked to board the vessel under authority given by Belize, but the North Koreans refused, Toner said.
“The ship’s master refusing us permission to board it, as well as the fact that it turned around and headed back to North Korea, speaks to ... some of our concerns about its cargo,” he said.
Reporting by Paul Eckert and JoAnne Allen; Editing by Paul Simao and Eric Beech