Royal Navy Deploys Third Ship for North Korea Patrols
The Royal Navy has deployed the amphib HMS Albion to the Western Pacific in support of UN sanctions on North Korean shipping, making her Britain's third vessel assigned to the mission. The frigates HMS Sutherland and HMS Argyll are also joining the effort. With the staggered deployment of three ships, the Royal Navy expects to have a nearly-continuous presence in the Asia-Pacific this year, ending its five-year absence from the region.
"Until North Korea matches its words with concrete actions, the UK will continue working closely with partners and allies to keep up pressure and strictly enforce existing sanctions, ensuring not only regional security but that of the UK as well," said UK defense secretary Gavin Williamson.
The announcement came as HMS Sutherland arrived at the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet base in Yokosuka, Japan to begin her patrols. The Royal Navy had already announced Sutherland's plans to conduct maritime security patrols in the Asia-Pacific, but Paul Casson, the British defense attache in Japan, told reporters that she had changed her itinerary and diverted to Yokosuka in order to send a message.
"[HMS Sutherland] is part of an international message that is going to North Korea and for the United Kingdom to see fit to send one of its frigates, to change its deployment from Southeast Asia, is part of that very powerful message,” Casson said.
Albion, Sutherland and Argyll will help allied forces monitor North Korean shipping and detect sanctions violations, like the illegal high-seas fuel transfers documented by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. Among other U.N. Security Council sanctions over North Korea's nuclear weapons program, the exportation of fuel to the DPRK is forbidden (beyond a low annual limit). To circumvent the ban, smugglers have taken to transferring petroleum products from commercial tankers directly to North Korean ships. In recent months, the U.N., the U.S. and the UK have blacklisted dozens of these sanctions-busting merchant vessels, including many that were caught in the act by anti-smuggling patrols.
The sanctions may be creating the desired level of economic pressure on North Korea's leadership. On Sunday, the Trump administration said that it had received confirmation that Kim Jong Un is willing to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, a key precondition for direct talks between Un and President Donald Trump.