The judicial branch of the U.S. decided to seize an oil tanker owned by a Singaporean national for violating the UN Security Council sanctions on North Korea on July 30. It is the second time that the U.S. government seized a vessel involved in transferring oil to North Korea that is illegally done at sea.
The U.S. Justice Department announced on that day in a press release that it decided to seize the Courageous owned by Kwek Kee Seng, a Singaporean national. According to the press release, the 2,734-ton oil tanker was used to deliver oil products directly to the North through oil transfer and transshipment. The U.S. Justice Department said the vessel violated the U.S. law and the UN Security Council resolution.
Satellite images caught the Courageous transferring oil worth 1.5 million dollars to the Saebyeol, a North Korean vessel, after turning off the Automatic Identification System from August to December 2019. The Courageous was also found by satellite at the Nampo port in North Korea. Kwek operates multiple paper companies and disguised the Courageous as another vessel to avoid tracking. He was also charged with laundering money needed to purchase the vessel and oil. He is facing up to 20 years in prison respectively for violating the sanctions and money laundering. He is on the wanted list of the Federal Bureau of Investigation but has not been arrested yet. The Courageous was seized by the Cambodian government in March last year and has been kept that way under the warrant of the U.S. issued one month later.
The U.S. government seized the Wise Honest on charges of illegally transporting 25,000 tons of coal to the North in 2019 and sold it in an auction. It was the first action taken by the U.S. government after seizing a vessel which violated sanctions against North Korea. Ocean transshipment of coal and oil are a representative way to render sanctions ineffective and continue smuggling, which is pointed out by the expert panel on UN Security Council sanctions on North Korea every year in the report.