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S. Korea denies ship involved in N. Korea sanctions evasion

TOKYO — Seoul dismissed a query by Japan that a South Korea-flagged vessel may have been involved in the transfer of goods to North Korea on the high seas in violation of U.N. sanctions, the Japanese government said Tuesday.


Tokyo asked Seoul to look into the matter after a Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force ship on surveillance duties spotted a North Korean tanker alongside a South Korean-registered cargo vessel in the East China Sea on May 3.


“It is not normal to see a ship come alongside another ship on the high seas. But the South Korean side said it has not confirmed any ship-to-ship transfer of goods. I think that is so,” Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters.


Japan decided not to report the case to a U.N. Security Council panel based on a “comprehensive judgment,” Onodera added.


Foreign Minister Taro Kono said as part of the international community, Tokyo will “resolutely deal with moves to evade (U.N.) sanctions” on North Korea.


The Japanese government has been stepping up patrolling efforts on the high seas near Japan for possible cases of North Korean oil smuggling to ensure the effectiveness of U.N. sanctions imposed against Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile weapons development programs.


From late January, the Japanese government exposed several cases of suspected transfers between North Korean and foreign-registered tankers in the East China Sea.


But, so far, there has not been any case in which a South Korean-flagged vessel was suspected to be making a ship-to-ship transfer with a North Korean vessel.


While the MSDF noticed suspicious activity between the ships on May 3, it did not observe any noticeable change in their drafts — or how low in the water the vessels sat — indicating no cargo transfer actually took place, according to Japanese government sources.

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