U.S. Government Wins Forfeiture of North Korean Bulker


Published Oct 22, 2019 9:23 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Monday, a federal judge awarded the U.S. government the ownership of the North Korean bulker it sold for scrap earlier this month. 

"Today's judgment of forfeiture finalized the U.S. government's seizure of the Wise Honest and officially takes this North Korean vessel out of commission," said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman of the Southern District of New York in a statement Monday. "[She] will no longer be used to further a criminal scheme."

The Justice Department believes that the Wise Honest was used to ship coal from North Korea and to deliver heavy machinery back to the DPRK in violation of UN sanctions. Payments for her maintenance and equipment were made in U.S. dollars and transferred through U.S. banks without their knowledge, according to prosecutors. 

The Wise Honest was seized last year when Indonesian authorities caught her carrying 25,000 tonnes of North Korean coal in Indonesia's waters. The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York filed a warrant to seize her, and in April, Indonesia transferred her to the U.S. Marshals Service, making her the first North Korean vessel ever seized by the United States for sanctions evasion. North Korea described the action as a "gangster-like," “flagrant act of robbery" and demanded the vessel's return.

After seizing Wise Honest, federal agents brought her to American Samoa for safekeeping. In July, the court overseeing her disposition granted an order to sell her as a means of preserving her value for the plaintiffs. The U.S. Marshals Service found a buyer, and she was towed out of Pago Pago on her final voyage October 7. As a result of Monday's court decision, the United States government now owns the funds resulting from her sale. 

Fred and Cindy Warmbier, the parents of the late Otto Warmbier, voluntarily withdrew their competing civil claim against the Wise Honest in order to allow the federal forfeiture action to move forward.