USA seizes North Korean cargo ship

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The announcement was made at a time of tension between the two countries. Under an unusual US civil forfeiture action, the vessel is now in the possession of the United States and is currently approaching US territorial waters heading toward American Samoa, US Justice Department officials said.

"Our office uncovered North Korea's scheme to export tons of high-grade coal to foreign buyers by concealing the origin of their ship, the Wise Honest", said USA attorney Geoffrey S Berman.

The US Justice Department has taken possession of North Korea's second-largest freighter, seized in Indonesia past year for allegedly shipping coal in violation of United Nations sanctions, ratcheting up tensions between the two countries.

"This sanctions-busting ship is now out of service", Assistant Attorney General Demers said in a news release.

Last month, a federal judge in the District of Columbia approved a set of subpoenas targeting the financial records of Chinese banks which might show how the North Korean regime has sought to evade sanctions over its nuclear program.

It was the second weapons launch from North Korea in five days.

American negotiators are now in South Korea for discussions on the current impasse following two high-level summits between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The complaint was filed in US District Court in Manhattan on Thursday by the US attorney's office for the Southern District of NY. The ship was used by Korea Songi Shipping Company between November 2016 and April 2018 to export coal from North Korea in exchange for machinery, court documents stated. To evade sanctions, the ship's operators concealed the origin of its cargo and the countries where it was registered.

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Geoffrey Berman, the US attorney for the southern district of NY, said the Wise Honest seizure was the "first-ever seizure" of a North Korean cargo ship alleged to have violated global sanctions.

The vessel has since been taken into custody by the US.

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The captain was charged with improper documentation, a violation of Indonesian maritime law, and convicted.

According to the Washington Post, the ship is one of North Korea's largest bulk carrier vessels at 17,000 tons.

Separately Thursday, U.S. military officials conducted a scheduled launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile from an Air Force facility in California. However, UN sanctions monitors reported to the council in March that Pyongyang continues to defy the measures "through a massive increase in illegal ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products and coal".

The 581-foot (177 metres) Wise Honest was used for coal transports to ports in China, Russia and other countries, according to the complaint, generating badly needed revenue to a country that is under United Nations sanctions because of its nuclear weapons program.

"There is no connection at all between the recent activities by North Korea and the unsealing of our seizure warrant", he said. Trump and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, abruptly ended their second meeting earlier this year when Trump refused to ease sanctions unless the North dismantled all of its nuclear weapons.

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