Seized North Korean Vessel Arrives in American Samoa

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

By The Maritime Executive 05-13-2019 05:11:16

The seized North Korean bulker Wise Honest has arrived at the port of Pago Pago, American Samoa. 

According to American prosecutors, the Wise Honest was used to transport coal abroad and to deliver heavy machinery back to North Korea between at least 2016 and 2018, thereby violating U.S. sanctions. Her operator, Korea Songi Shipping Company, is also blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury and is believed to be owned by the North Korean army.  

Photos from Pago Pago's harbor show the Wise Honest under tow by the oceangoing tug Salviceroy, a 150 TBP anchor-handler based in Singapore. The Salviceroy's AIS record indicates that she departed Singapore April 10, shortly before the timeframe in which American authorities seized the Wise Honest.

The acting governor of American Samoa, Lemanu Peleti Mauga, met with U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Coast Guard officials before the Wise Honest's arrival. The USCG has assigned servicemembers from the Activities Far East Detachment in Singapore to assess the vessel's condition, and the governor's office said that they have made appropriate preparations for the safe arrival and sustainment of the vessel in Pago Pago.

Now that Wise Honest is alongside the pier in Pago Pago, federal agents will board and search her, and half a dozen local and federal agencies will be involved in inspecting her condition and ensuring tight security. The governor's office said that maintaining safe, uninterrupted commercial traffic flow in Pago Pago's harbor is a top priority for the Coast Guard and the Captain of the Port. 

Federal officials said that they picked Pago Pago as the destination for the Wise Honest because it has deep water and is centrally located. American Samoa is about 4,400 nm from Balikpapan, where the Wise Honest was first detained by Indonesian authorities last year; Guam, an American territory which is home to a major U.S. military base, would have been closer at only about 1,800 nm. 

Wise Honest will be in Pago Pago until the Department of Justice's on-site investigation is finished. "Upon the conclusion of the investigation, the ship will be moved," U.S. Coast Guard public affairs officer Amanda Wyrick told AP. The vessel's next destination is not yet known. 

The vessel's seizure was carried out at a time of escalating tensions with North Korea. Pyongyang has resumed ballistic missile lauches over the Sea of Japan, and North Korea's state media has also returned to a more militaristic rhetorical style after a period of relative calm. North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has "stressed the need to further increase the capability of the defence units in the forefront area and on the western front to carry out combat tasks and keep full combat posture to cope with any emergency," North Korean state media outlet KCNA warned Friday.