U.S. authorities have seized a North Korean ship used to sell coal in alleged violation of international sanctions, Justice Department officials said Thursday.
Justice Department officials confirmed the ship, the “Wise Honest,” is approaching U.S. territorial waters, with coordination of the U.S. Marshals and the Coast Guard.
Officials said it was the first time the U.S. has seized a North Korean cargo vessel for violating international sanctions.
“This sanctions-busting ship is now out of service,” Assistant Attorney General John Demers said in announcing the seizure.
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The 17,601-ton, single hull bulk carrier ship is one of North Korea’s largest carriers, and U.S. authorities said it was used to illicitly ship coal and deliver heavy machinery to North Korea.
Media reports from last year indicate Indonesian authorities first stopped the vessel on suspicion of violating sanctions. U.S. officials would not say Thursday if Indonesia turned over the vessel.
The U.N. Security Council passed a resolution in 2017 banning North Korea from exporting coal.
The move marks an escalation of U.S. government pressure on Pyongyang, even as President Trump has spoken glowingly about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
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.
In that case, investigators are probing whether a Hong Kong corporation may have helped North Korea evade sanctions.