South Korea Stops Cargo Ship on Alleged Violation of North Korea Sanctions

South Korea Coast Guard
South Korea's Coast Guard redirected the ship to the anchorage in Busan (file photo)

Published Jun 20, 2024 3:41 PM by The Maritime Executive


For the second time in a little over two months, the South Korean Coast Guard on Thursday stopped a cargo ship and redirected it to the port of Busan for further inspection. Few details have been released or what prompted the action against the individual vessel with South Korean officials only saying there was a “suspicion of violations.”

Under international maritime law, South Korea is permitted to stop vessels suspected of violating UN Security Council sanctions if the vessels are in its territorial waters. Maritime interdiction is permitted (unofficially encouraged) if a vessel is suspected of transporting prohibited goods or facilitating smuggling or other illegal activities. A nation can also intervene when ship-to-ship transfers are taking place in territorial waters. A nation can stop for inspection, detain, and even potentially move to seize the vessel.

Korea’s Yonhap news agency is reporting that the 2,900-ton vessel was stopped and later moved into Busan for further investigation. They are reporting the vessel was allegedly carrying coal, which is a sanctioned material, as well as iron ore. They are saying the ship had departed Russia and was presumed to have stopped in North Korea before starting a voyage to China.

For nearly 20 years, the United Nations Security Council has imposed a range of sanctions against North Korea. The goal was to discourage aggression and limit weapons programs and the export of materials. This includes electrical equipment, coal, and foodstuffs. North Korea is known to be an arms exporter with reports of further deals after its president Kim Jong Un and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin met for two days earlier this week.

"In relation to the vessel's suspected violation of UNSC sanctions, relevant government agencies are taking necessary steps in line with the international and domestic laws," the South Korean Foreign Ministry told Yonhap, which was unable to confirm which sanctions the voyage allegedly contravened.

There are 10 crewmembers aboard who are being held aboard the ship. There was no report of their nationality and some reports are saying the vessel appeared to be stateless. 

South Korea also continues to hold a second vessel, the general cargo ship named De Yi, stopped on March 30. The vessel also remains in Busan with its crew still aboard.  The 6,800-ton cargo ship appeared to be stateless when it was stopped. 

The Foreign Ministry said 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 were 13 crewmembers, including a Chinese captain and Chinese and Indonesian crewmembers aboard. They were refusing to cooperate with the South Korean authorities.

South Korea has seized other ships in the past also for alleged violations. In November and December 2017, they seized two different product tankers. Both vessels were alleged to have been conducting ship-to-ship transfers of oil products.