RUSSIAN OIL SMUGGLERS SUPPLYING NORTH KOREA
▶ Security sources say transfers at sea defy UN’s sanctions programme
Russian tankers have supplied fuel to North Korea at least three times in recent months by transferring cargo at sea.
The transfers in October and last month indicate that smuggling from Russia to Pyongyang has involved loading cargoes at sea since it was reported in September that North Korean ships were sailing directly from Russia to their homeland.
A European security source said there was no evidence of Russian state involvement in the sales.
“These Russian vessels are giving a lifeline to the North Koreans,” the source claimed.
The sale of oil or oil products from Russia, the world’s second-biggest oil exporter and a member of the UN security council with a right of veto, breached UN sanctions.
Russia’s foreign ministry and customs service declined to comment when asked on Wednesday if Russian ships had supplied fuel to North Korean vessels.
The owner of one ship accused of the smuggling denied any such activity.
On Friday, China denied it had illicitly shipped oil products to North Korea in response to criticism from the United States.
North Korea relies on imported fuel to keep its economy functioning. It also needs fuel for its intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear programme that the US said threatens peace in Asia.
Ship satellite positioning data shows unusual movements by some of the Russian vessels named by the security sources, including switching off the transponders that give a precise location.
Security sources claimed the Russian-flagged tanker Vityaz was a ship that had transferred fuel to North Korean vessels.
The Vityaz left the port of Slavyanka near Vladivostok in Russia on October 15 with 1,600 tonnes of oil, Russian port control documents said.
Documents submitted by the vessel’s agent to port control showed its destination as a fishing fleet in the Japan Sea.
Shipping data showed the vessel switched off its transponder for a few days as it sailed into open waters.
The security sources said the Vityaz conducted a transfer with the North Korean flagged
tanker in open seas during October. The had turned off its transponder from the start of August.
The owner of the Russian vessel denied any contact with North Korean vessels and said it was unaware that the ship was fuelling fishing boats.
Yaroslav Guk, deputy director of the tanker’s owner, Alisa in Vladivostock, said the ship had no contacts with North Korean vessels.
“Absolutely no, this is very dangerous,” Mr Guk said. “It would be complete madness.”
An official at East Coast, the vessel’s transport agent, declined to comment.
Two other Russian-flagged tankers made similar journeys between the middle of October and last month, leaving from the ports of Slavyanka and Nakhodka into open seas where they switched off their transponders, data showed.
RIA Novosti press agency yesterday quoted the Russia foreign ministry as saying that Moscow “fully and strictly respects the sanctions regime” against North Korea but that there were quotas in place, not a total ban on oil imports, under UN Resolution 2397 approved by the Security Council last week.
Ship satellite positioning data shows unusual movements by some of the Russian vessels named by the security sources