U.S. says Russian ship suspected of illicit North Korea trade

March 22, 2019

By Polina Nikolskaya

MOSCOW (Reuters) – The U.S. government has named a Russian ship on a list of vessels suspected of providing fuel to Pyongyang, a month after Reuters reported the same ship violated sanctions by carrying out a clandestine transfer to a North Korean tanker.

The Treasury Department, which oversees U.S. sanctions, included the Russian vessel, the Tantal, on a new list of “vessels believed to have engaged in ship-to-ship transfers with North Korean tankers.”

The list was included in updated https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/dprk_vessel_advisory_03212019.pdf guidance on addressing North Korea’s illicit shipping practices published by the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). Inclusion on the list does not denote a ship or its owners are being put under sanctions.

Contacted on his mobile telephone on Friday, the owner of the Tantal, Russian businessman Alexander Anikin, said he had no immediate comment on the Tantal’s inclusion on the list, but would respond to questions later. OFAC did not immediately respond when asked why it included the Tantal on the list.

In an article published in February, Reuters cited two witnesses as saying the Tantal transferred fuel to a North Korean vessel at sea at least four times between October 2017 and May 2018.

Such transactions violate the international sanctions imposed on North Korea over its nuclear and missiles program, which include a United Nations ban on nearly 90 percent of refined petroleum exports to Pyongyang.

The Tantal was one of 18 vessels listed by OFAC in its updated guidance as ships believed to have engaged in illicit ship-to-ship transfers of fuel with North Korean tankers.

After Reuters’ report about the Tantal’s ship-to-ship transfers in February, Russia’s ambassador to Pyongyang was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying any Russian fuel deliveries to North Korea were legal and mainly by rail.

(Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton in WASHINGTON, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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