On Monday the Pentagon confirmed that the U.S. Navy had attempted to board a North Korean crewed merchant vessel suspected of carrying illegal weapons technology.
The Chinese owned and operated vessel denied the U.S. Navy’s request to board, but the U.S. maintained careful watch over the ship, as it sailed in the South China Sea.
The incident, said to have occurred on May 26, was in violation of international law when it refused the U.S. boarding. There are several U.N. resolutions permitting the boarding of vessels suspected of carrying banned weapons. The USS Campbell, a U.S. Navy destroyer, continued surveillance on the ship for several days, until on May 29 the ship turned back and returned to North Korea.
The MV Light, a Belize- flagged cargo ship was believed to have a crew of North Koreans onboard. Officials believe the ship was carrying banned weapons to Myanmar. With the ship heading towards the straits of Malacca, the U.S. warned Singapore and Malaysia of the approaching vessel. Also, the U.S. had the agreement from several Southeast Asian nations, to not allow the vessel into their ports.
North Korea’s state media has not reported the incident and is not discussing prior interceptions of the illegal transport of weapons and planes by ship.
Despite efforts by the U.S., China and other countries to encourage North Korea to suspend its nuclear pursuits in exchange for economic benefits and security- the country continues to move forward with its weapons programs. U.N. issued sanctions to ban N. Korea’s sale of weapons - set against N. Korea after its 2009 testing of a nuclear weapon- have allowed foreign nations to intercept several vessels attempting to transport illegal weapons.
The U.S. says that when confronted about the vessel, N. Korea claimed the ship was carrying industrial chemicals to Bangladesh. U.S. officials say they had no way of knowing if that was true and they had good reason to be suspicious, as this same vessel has in the past been involved with transporting weapons to Myanmar and the Middle East.
The 4,650 dwt. vessel is owned by Ever Ocean Shipping Agency Co. and operated by Dalian Sea Glory Shipping Co. of Liaoning, China.