Earlier this week, U.S. authorities seized a North Korean ship that had long been playing a role in Pyongyang’s efforts to circumvent sanctions.
The effort to take control of the ship has apparently been ongoing for several months. After tracking the vessel’s activities for years, government officials filed a seizure warrant last July. Recently, authorities finally got their chance. Government agents took control of the ship while it was coming into port in American Samoa.
According to a recent statement from the Justice Department, the 17,061-ton carrier in question, known as the Wise Honest, was used to smuggle coal and heavy machinery into North Korea to assist its industrial expansion. Federal authorities said the enormous coal exports the ship undertook have been used to finance North Korea’s nuclear proliferation and ballistic missile programs. Indeed the Wise Honest was a huge money maker for Pyongyang. In connection to just one shipment from March 2018, U.S. officials identified payments totaling more than $750,000 transmitted through American bank accounts. It is yet to be seen if other entities of businesses in the U.S. or elsewhere will be also prosecuted in connection with Wise Honest’s maritime activities.
The seizure of the North Korean ship is an important development in the ongoing reconciliation effort between the U.S. and North Korea. Over the past week, President Trump has put out several indications of his willingness to continue working with DPRK. A week ago, Trump tweeted how he hoped to help North Korea achieve its full “economic potential” and that he was fully “with” North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. “A deal will be made,” Trump concluded. Even more recently, South Korean officials announced efforts to assist the North with emergency food aid with Trump’s full support. But the carrots do not come without sticks. With any luck, the North Koreans will get the message that Trump is trying, a message he has been trying to send Pyongyang for over a year. The U.S. is eager to find peace with DPRK, but at the same time, will continue to exert tough and unrelenting pressure.