PH seizes N. Korean ship
The Philippines on Saturday said it had impounded a suspected North Korean cargo vessel to enforce new, tougher United Nations sanctions introduced last week in response to Pyongyang’s recent nuclear and ballistic missile tests.
The 4,355-ton cargo ship MV Jin Teng will not be allowed to leave Subic port in Zambales province, where it has been docked since Thursday night, and its crew will be deported, Presidential Communications Undersecretary Manuel L. Quezon III said on state-run Radyo ng Bayan.
The Philippine action was the first reported case of the sanctions—the toughest to date—that the UN Security Council adopted late last Wednesday being enforced.
“The world is concerned over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and as a member of the [United Nations], the Philippines has to do its part to enforce the sanctions,” Quezon said.
He said Assistant Foreign Affairs Secretary Gary Domingo, who handles the United Nations and other international organizations, coordinated with the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) to impound the North Korean vessel, as advised by the Philippine permanent mission to the United Nations.
“An asset freeze basically means to impound the [ship] and that it should not be allowed to leave port. It also means that the crew must eventually be deported,” Quezon said.
Charles Jose, spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs, said a UN team was expected to arrive in the Philippines to inspect the vessel.
The Philippines will submit a full report on its actions regarding the ship, he added.
The Jin Teng arrived at Subic port, a former US naval base, from Palembang, Indonesia, on Thursday afternoon.
The vessel was carrying a cargo of palm kernel expeller, which could be used for farm animal feed.
A Coast Guard team boarded the vessel for an inspection, the first such checks since the UN Security Council imposed the new sanctions on North Korea.
Coast Guard Cmdr. Raul Belesario said the inspectors found no suspicious materials on the vessel, but spotted minor deficiencies, including missing fire hoses, a corroded air vent and electrical switches without insulation.
Belesario said the ship’s documents showed the cargo was for consignees in the Philippines.
He said the ship’s papers showed that it was a Sierra Leone-flagged vessel owned by a company based in the British Virgin Islands and managed by a firm in China’s Shandong province.
“On paper, it’s not North Korean,” he said.
Belesario said that he had not received any government order to impound the ship by yesterday afternoon, but that he would do so if instructed by the government.
Asked about the ownership issue, Domingo said it could be checked if the ship was using a “flag of convenience” to hide its true ownership, adding that Philippine officials would meet soon to determine what to do next with the ship in coordination with the United Nations.
Cmdr. Armand Balilio, spokesperson for the Coast Guard, said the vessel was inspected for the second time on Saturday, this time using electronic weapons sensors.
The registered owner of the Jin Teng 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 is no telephone listing for the company.
The 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 against Pyongyang.
The UN 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 United Nations 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 tons 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 United Nations, its owners would find it difficult to get the vessel insured, refueled or even call at foreign ports, industry experts said.
The Jin Teng has called at ports in Indonesia and Taiwan since the beginning of this year, ship tracking data available on the Reuters Eikon Terminal showed.
It had been anchored about 14 kilometers from Subic Bay since Feb. 28, and berthed on Thursday afternoon, just hours after the latest sanctions were unanimously passed to punish North Korea for its Jan. 6 nuclear test and recent rocket launch.
In response to the United Nations’ move, North Korea fired six short-range missiles into the sea on Thursday. North Korean leader Kin Jong-un also ordered the hermit state’s nuclear arsenal put on standby for preemptive use at any time. With reports from Tarra Quismundo in Manila; Allan Macatuno, Inquirer Central Luzon; AFP, AP
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