March 3, 2016 / 11:31 AM / in 3 years

RPT-Philippines to board N.Korea-linked ship as sanctions trade ban looms

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By Keith Wallis

SINGAPORE, March 3 (Reuters) - The Philippines Coast Guard will carry out a security and safety inspection on a North Korean freighter in one of the first such checks since the United Nations Security Council voted to impose harsh penalties against Pyongyang over its nuclear programme.

The 6,830 deadweight tonne (dwt) general cargo ship Jin Teng is among 31 vessels that could be forced to stop trading after being included in an asset freeze against a North Korean shipping company under the tightened sanctions passed unanimously by the Security Council on Wednesday.

The Philippine Coast Guard National Capital Region said in an emailed statement to Reuters that a team in the Subic Bay port of Olongapo, on the main island of Luzon, was preparing to board the North Korean vessel.

A team of three or four coast guard personnel would go aboard the Jin Teng to inspect crew and ship’s documents, a coast guard commander told Reuters, before the ship berthed on Thursday.

“We have no further information about the ship,” said the commander, who declined to be identified because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

Phone calls to the ship could not be connected despite several attempts by Reuters.

The Jin Teng has called at Palembang, in Indonesia, and Kaohsiung, in Taiwan, since the beginning of this year, ship tracking data available on the Reuters Eikon Terminal showed. The ship has been anchored about 14 km (8.5 miles) from Subic Bay since Feb. 28.

The registered owner is Golden Soar Development, which has an address in Hong Kong’s Tsim Sha Tsui tourist district, according to the Equasis shipping database hosted by the French transport ministry, although there was no telephone listing for the company.

The Jin Teng is among seven of the targeted ships that are owned by companies in Hong Kong and China, according to shipping databases.

ARMS SMUGGLING

The U.N. resolution said the 31 ships were “economic resources controlled or operated by Ocean Maritime Management and therefore subject to the asset freeze”.

Ocean Maritime Management was blacklisted by the U.N. in July 2014 after the North Korean freighter, Chong Chon Gang, was detained in Panama in 2013 for carrying arms, including two MiG-21 jet fighters, hidden under thousands of tonnes of sugar.

While most of the ships have operated between ports in China and North Korea, ship tracking data showed several have called at ports around Asia during the last six months.

If a ship is designated by the U.N., its owners would find it difficult to get the vessel insured, refuelled or even call at foreign ports, industry experts said.

“I doubt that anyone will touch the ships as far as international insurers go and they may be prevented from trading to most places as a result,” said a shipping lawyer.

“However, this will all depend on enforcement - will China actually enforce this resolution? If not, then can the vessels trade to China?”

Some lawyers said ships might be able to escape being banned from trading until member states passed legislation to extend sanctions.

“U.N. security council resolutions aren’t always directly applicable in member states: it’s up to member states to implement them into domestic law,” said one lawyer specialising in international sanctions, who declined to be named citing client confidentiality.

One ship on the U.N. list, the 14,379 dwt dry cargo ship Dawnlight, has traded between China and North Korea over the last six months despite being on the U.S. Treasury Department’s list of sanctioned vessels.

“The United States and Europe are likely to implement them fairly quickly, but for other countries there might be a delay,” the lawyer said. (Reporting by Keith Wallis; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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