North Korea sanctions: Royal Navy frigate spots illicit fuel transfer at sea

Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose recently documented a North Korean ship carrying out an illegal ship-to-ship fuel transfer in the East China Sea.

Working alongside Japanese partners on March 2, the British frigate spotted the North Korean-flagged tanker Saebyol, which was transmitting on ship tracking systems as a fishing boat, alongside a vessel of unknown nationality on the high seas.

It is assessed that the ships were carrying out a ship-to-ship transfer of fuel, which is prohibited by United Nations sanctions.

The team on board HMS Montrose gathered photographic evidence of the activity and reported the information to the United Nations.

“Our Royal Navy presence in East Asia over the last year has been a robust deterrent against those trying to evade international sanctions on North Korea,” UK defense secretary Gavin Williamson said. “Sanctions evasion helps facilitate North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and is a major source of funding.

“Sanctions will remain in place and we and our partners will keep enforcing them until we see concrete steps towards North Korea’s complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation.”

HMS Montrose is the fourth vessel to take part in enforcing sanctions against North Korea since the start of last year, after HMS Sutherland, HMS Albion and HMS Argyll deployed in 2018.

In May 2018, HMS Sutherland observed and reported a Panama-flagged vessel conducting a prohibited ship-to-ship transfer with a North Korean-flagged vessel. This resulted in the Panamanian vessel being designated by the UN, deflagged and banned from port entry.

The deployment of HMS Montrose to the region to conduct sanctions enforcement was announced during the visit of the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, to the UK, in January.

Photo: Photo: Royal Navy