Philippines to impound suspected North Korean ship, deport crew

AP

The Philippines will impound a suspected North Korean cargo ship docked at a port northwest of Manila and eventually deport its North Korean crewmen in compliance with tough new U.N. Security Council sanctions on Pyongyang over its latest nuclear test and rocket launch, officials said Saturday.

Presidential Communications Undersecretary Manolo Quezon III said the U.N. sanctions would be applied to the MV Jin Teng, which arrived Thursday at Subic Bay, a former U.S. naval base that’s now a key commercial port. The ship has 21 North Korean crewmen.

“Our obligation is essentially to impound the vessel and not allow it to leave port and that the crew must eventually be deported,” Quezon said in a radio interview.

The 4,355-ton vessel is among 31 ships listed as being North Korean owned and that should be held under an “assets freeze” order, Philippine Foreign Assistant Secretary Gary Domingo said.

It’s one of the first known impositions of the toughest Security Council sanctions on the reclusive country in two decades, reflecting growing anger at Pyongyang’s recent nuclear test and rocket launch in defiance of a ban on all nuclear-related activity.

Philippine Coast Guard regional commander Raul Belesario, however, said that Jin Teng’s papers show that it’s a Sierra Leone-flagged ship owned by a company based in the British Virgin Islands and managed by a firm in China’s Shandong province.

“On paper, it’s not North Korean,” he said.

Belesario said that he had not received any government order to impound the ship by Saturday afternoon, but that he would do so if instructed by the government. The vessel needs to stay at Subic for about two to three more days to unload a cargo of palm kernel expeller, which could be used as farm animal feed, he said.

The North Korean crewmen have not been restricted since they arrived and showed their travel papers, Belesario said, adding that there were no available records to check whether the Jin Teng has traveled to North Korea in the past.

Coast guard personnel with two bomb sniffer dogs boarded the vessel Thursday after it arrived from Indonesia. The inspectors did not find any suspicious materials, but spotted minor safety deficiencies, including missing fire hoses, a corroded air vent and electrical switches without insulation.

Aside from those deficiencies, which were being dealt with by the crew, there were no other issues with the ship, which is scheduled to sail next to southwestern China’s Zhanjiang port, Belesario said.

Domingo said the Philippine government will proceed to hold the ship in line with the latest Security Council sanctions order and submit a report to U.N. officials.

Asked about the ownership issue, Domingo said it can be checked if the ship was using “a flag of convenience” to hide its true owner, adding that Philippine officials will meet soon to determine what to do next with the ship in coordination with the U.N.

The latest Security Council sanctions include mandatory inspections of cargo leaving and entering North Korea by sea or air, a ban on all sales or transfers of small arms and light weapons to Pyongyang, and the expulsion of diplomats from the North who engage in “illicit activities.”