Seoul has dismissed a query by Japan over whether a South Korea-flagged vessel may have been involved in the transfer of goods to North Korea on the high seas, in violation of U.N. sanctions, according to the Japanese government.
Tokyo asked Seoul to look into the matter after a Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force ship on surveillance duty spotted a North Korean tanker alongside a South Korean-registered cargo vessel in the East China Sea on May 3.
“It is not normal to see a ship come alongside another ship on the high seas. But South Korea said it has not confirmed any ship-to-ship transfer of goods. I think that is the case,” Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters Tuesday.
Japan has decided not to report the case to a U.N. Security Council panel based on a “comprehensive judgment,” Onodera added.
Foreign Minister Taro Kono said that as part of the international community, Tokyo will “resolutely deal with moves to evade (U.N.) sanctions” on North Korea.
The government has been stepping up patrols on the high seas near Japan for possible cases of North Korean oil smuggling in order to ensure the effectiveness of U.N. sanctions imposed against Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile weapons development programs.
From late January, the Japanese government exposed several cases of suspected transfers between North Korean and foreign-registered tankers in the East China Sea.
But, so far, there have not been any cases in which a South Korean-flagged vessel was found to have made a ship-to-ship transfer with a North Korean vessel.
While the MSDF noticed suspicious activity between the ships on May 3, it did not observe any noticeable change in their drafts — or the vertical distance between the waterline and the bottom of the hull — indicating that no cargo transfer had actually taken place, according to government sources.