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South Korea Detains Stateless Cargo Ship to Investigate Sanctions Breaches

South Korean Coast Guard
South Korean Coast Guard diverted the stateless ship to the anchorage at Busan for an investigation (file photo)

Published Apr 3, 2024 2:45 PM by The Maritime Executive


South Korea’s Foreign Ministry confirmed media reports that it took the unusual step of detaining a cargo ship that was underway near the port of Yeosu, transiting the waters between Korea and Japan. The move comes as the Seoul government has taken increased unilateral steps against North Korea including sanctioning ships involved in the weapons trade with Russia and reportedly increasing monitoring of North Korea for sanctions violations.

The official statement said that the government was conducting an investigation based on cooperation with the United States into allegations of sanctions violations by the somewhat mysterious general cargo ship named De Yi.

According to a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry, the vessel initially refused to stop when ordered to by the South Korean Coast Guard. They were later able to redirect the ship into the anchorage at Busan on March 30, but reports are that the crew continues to refuse to cooperate. So far, they have refused to open the ship’s cargo hatches for inspection.

Reports are calling the vessel stateless with international databases also listing the flag and ownership as unknown. Built in 2006, the 6,749 dwt vessel’s last known owner and operator was in Hong Kong. Since being built, the ship was registered in China, but it appears to have been sold in 2022. It was renamed and in 2023 was reflecting registry in Togo. 

The Foreign Ministry reports the ship was believed to have been in North Korea’s Namo Port before proceeding to Shandong, China, and at the time it was detained it was reporting Vladivostok, Russia as its destination. The report said there are 13 crewmembers, including a Chinese captain and Chinese and Indonesian crewmembers aboard. They are also refusing to cooperate with the South Korean authorities.

While South Korea has detained ships in port, an action against a merchant ship underway is very rare. The media reports suggest that the South Koreans were acting on information supplied by the United States.