U.S. Marshals Prepare to Sell North Korean Ship

Wise Honest allegedly loading coal at Nampo, N. Korea (U.S. State Department)

Published Jul 29, 2019 5:06 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Marshals Service is beginning the process to sell the Wise Honest, the North Korean bulker it seized in April 2019. Last week, a federal court authorized the vessel's sale in order to satisfy a civil judgement against the government of North Korea. 

The parents of Otto Warmbier, an American student who died shortly after his release from North Korean custody in 2017, sued Pyongyang for wrongful death in U.S. federal court and won a judicial award of $500 million in December 2018. The petition to sell the Wise Honest is their first successful move to recover funds in connection with this judgement. 

The Honest is already in American custody: She was seized in Indonesia last year when Indonesian authorities caught her carrying 25,000 tonnes of North Korean coal, a violation of UN Security Council sanctions. The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York then filed a warrant to seize her for the same violation, and in April, Indonesia transferred her to the U.S. Marshals Service, which brought her to American Samoa for safekeeping. North Korea described the action - ordered by independent federal prosecutors, not by the White House - as a "gangster-like," “flagrant act of robbery" and demanded the vessel's return.

Last week, a spokesperson for the U.S. Marshals Service told VOA that the agency is now "in the process of developing a disposal plan, taking into consideration things such as age, condition, and location of the vessel." Under the court order, the sale may proceed on an expedited basis in order to reduce the expense of the vessel's maintenance. Any proceeds will then be disbursed when a final order of forfeiture is issued by the court. 

The Wise Honest is 30 years old, and she has been operated by North Korean shipping agencies throughout her service life. A PSC inspection in Nakhodka, Russia in late 2017 documented 28 deficiencies, according to her Equasis record, including structural corrosion of beams, frames and floors.