The Foreign Ministry said Tuesday it is looking into cases in which North Korean coal was allegedly shipped to South Korea via Russia last year in violation of United Nations sanctions.
According to an annual UN sanctions committee report summited by a panel of experts, North Korean coal shipped to the Russian port of Kholmsk was unloaded at docks and reloaded onto two vessels that took it to South Korean ports of Incheon and Pohang in October.
North Korean coal was transported from the North’s ports of Wonsan and Chongjin to the Russian port of Kholmsk between July and September last year on six occasions.
A vessel, which was registered in Panama, arrived in Incheon on Oct. 2 and the Sierra Leone-registered vessel carrying 5,000 tons of North Korean coal arrived in Pohang on Oct. 11 last year, according to the UN report.
The shipment of North Korean coal to Pohang alone could be valued at around $325,000 if the per-ton price is set at $65, the report said.
In an earlier report Tuesday, Voice of America’s Korean-language site reported that the sanctions committee had initially pointed to Incheon and Pohang as “final destinations,” but it recently made a change to refer to them as “ports for trans-shipment.”
VOA raised the possibility of North Korean coal shipped to South Korea being transported to other countries.
Asked about the shipments, the Foreign Ministry said that relevant authorities are investigating.
“Our government is making diplomatic efforts necessary to implement the UN Security Council sanctions on North Korea in close coordination with the international community,” ministry spokesperson Noh Kyu-duk said at a regular briefing Tuesday.
A Foreign Ministry official said on condition of anonymity that the South Korean government learned about the cases in October, before the UN sanctions committee.
The ongoing investigation focuses on finding out whether the coal was actually from North Korea, whether the trader intended to import North Korean coal and whether it constituted a breach of UN sanctions. The probe result is to be closely shared with the sanctions committee, the official said.
The UN Security Council adopted a resolution in August last year, which banned exports of coal from the North along with other minerals to cut off an important source of foreign currency Pyongyang needs to fund its nuclear weapon and missile programs.
Seoul and Washington remain committed to implementing sanctions against North Korea to force it to give up nuclear and missile weapons programs, but critics warn against a crack in the sanctions regime amid ongoing engagement with the North over denuclearization.
The US last week accused North Korea of smuggling refined petroleum products into the country through ship-to-ship transfers beyond the quota of 500,000 barrels per year allowed under UN sanctions. It asked the UN to order an immediate halt to all transfers of oil to the country.
By Ock Hyun-ju (email@example.com