July 2, 2019 / 8:45 AM / 15 days ago

South Korea releases two ships as oil transfers to North 'not deliberate' sanctions breach

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea has released two ships it had seized on suspicion of transferring oil to North Korea as there was no deliberate breach of U.N. sanctions, Seoul’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday.

South Korea seized four vessels to check whether they violated U.N. sanctions by making illegal ship-to-ship transfers of oil or coal products to North Korean ships.

A U.N. panel approved the release of the Hong Kong-flagged Lighthouse Winmore and the South Korean P-Pioneer based on South Korean probe results that they had not intended to breach sanctions, Seoul officials said.

“There was evidence of ship-to-ship transfers but we concluded that it was not deliberate,” a senior official at South Korea’s foreign ministry told Reuters.

The shipping companies had promised to keep tracking devices on ships at all times and provide records as necessary, the official said.

The other two vessels, formerly Panama-flagged KOTI and Talent Ace, remain detained, the official said.

The United Nations last year blacklisted KOTI Corp, which operates the namesake ship, as part of efforts to curb North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs by squeezing essential fuel supplies.

The U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions in 2017 limiting the North’s access to refined petroleum products and crude oil while sharply slashing its exports of coal, iron and other minerals, which are key sources of foreign currency.

Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Nick Macfie

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