Seized North Korean Bulker Sold, Towed Off for Scrapping

The Wise Honest loading coal at Nampo, North Korea, March 14, 2018 (DOJ)

Published Oct 9, 2019 1:54 PM by The Maritime Executive

After a five-month stay in the port of Pago Pago, American Samoa, the North Korean bulker Wise Honest finally departed under tow Monday, bound for demolition. 

Her sale and removal was the culmination of a long investigative and judicial process. She was seized last year when Indonesian authorities caught her carrying 25,000 tonnes of North Korean coal, a violation of UN Security Council sanctions. The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York then filed a warrant to seize her for the same violation, and in April, Indonesia transferred her to the U.S. Marshals Service, which brought her to American Samoa for safekeeping. North Korea described the action - ordered by independent federal prosecutors, not by the White House - as a "gangster-like," “flagrant act of robbery" and demanded the vessel's return.

Despite these protestations, she was recently disposed of in an auction directed by a federal judge in the Southern District of New York. While she was in American Samoa, the U.S. Coast Guard ensured the safety and security of the Port of Pago Pago and the vessel. The Coast Guard captain of the port received and approved the tow plan from the company who purchased the ship, and the tug arrived in Pago Pago on Friday.

“We are grateful to our partners in American Samoa and the Department of Justice who led this operation,” said Capt. Arex Avanni, commander of Coast Guard Sector Honolulu and captain of the port for American Samoa. “We are pleased this event concluded without incident."

The USCG made preparations for the arrival and sustainment of the vessel in Pago Pago. Over the five months since, the Coast Guard conducted safety and security patrols in and around the ship with teams from Maritime Safety and Security Team Honolulu, Sector Honolulu, USCGC Joseph Gerczak, USCGC Walnut and the Marine Safety Detachment in American Samoa. 

“We are deeply committed to working closely with our partners and allies to advance maritime governance as part of the rules-based international order essential to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Capt. Avanni.