A South Korea-flagged oil tanker has been found to have been detained at Busan Port for six months on suspicion of violating the United Nations Security Council sanctions against North Korea by delivering 4,300-ton oil product to the North twice through ship-to-ship transfers in 2017 on international waters.
As South Korea has been repeatedly mentioned in cases of suspected sanctions violations, the international community will likely have greater questions about Seoul’s commitment to implementing the sanctions. South Korean has already been dishonorably mentioned in the U.N. The Security Council Sanctions Committee on North Korea’s annual report for having imported North Korean coals. Another South Korean vessel was also mentioned in the U.S. Department of State’s list of ships suspected of illegal ship-to-ship transfers with North Korean ships.
Since the collapse of the February 28 North Korea-U.S. summit, Washington has been continuing its pressures on Pyongyang by tightening the sanctions on the North. Washington considers the sanctions as the most effective means of forcing the North to denuclearize itself. The North’s desperate attempts to get sanctions relief proves that the Pyongyang regime is feeling the pain of the sanctions.
At this juncture, South Korea’s involvement in the sanctions violations has brought Seoul’s commitment to implementing the sanctions to a question again. Although the South Korean government insists that it is one of the countries that are most faithfully implementing the North Korea sanctions, we cannot help but ask if Seoul did a proper job of educating South Korean shipping companies sufficiently about the sanctions and monitoring their implementations. With such suspicions, South Korea would not have any voice in the international community regarding Korean Peninsula issues.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in will visit Washington on April 11 for a meeting with President Trump to discuss ways to resume U.S.-North Korea talks. However, how would a South Korean government that cannot control its vessels look in the eyes of the Trump administration? Seoul is also being suspected of helping Pyongyang under the excuse of playing mediating roles. South Korea should deal thoroughly with the vessel that has allegedly violated the international sanctions to clear itself of the suspicion that is a “hole” in the sanctions, while sending a clear message to the North that there is no way to get around denuclearization.