The Trump administration has seized a North Korean cargo ship used to supply coal to the isolated nation in violation of international sanctions, law enforcement officials said Thursday.
The seizure of the vessel, detained last month in Indonesia, comes at a delicate moment between the two countries. It was announced hours after the North Koreans fired two suspected short-range missiles in an apparent sign of trouble for nuclear disarmament talks.
It also follows a Pentagon decision to suspend efforts to arrange negotiations on recovering additional remains of U.S. service members killed in the North during the Korean War.
The Justice Department said the ship, the Wise Honest, is one of North Korea’s largest bulk carriers and for several years had been used to deliver Russian coal to North Korea.
Payments for maintenance and equipment for the vessel were made in American dollars through unwitting U.S. banks, a violation of sanctions that bar North Korean citizens or entities from the U.S. financial system.
Officials say North Korea sought to conceal the vessel’s purpose by listing in shipping documentation different countries for its nationality and the origin of the coal.
“This sanctions-busting ship is now out of service,” said Assistant Attorney General John Demers, the Justice Department’s top national security official.
According to a civil complaint filed Thursday in federal court in Manhattan, the ship was intercepted and seized by Indonesian authorities on April 2, 2018. At the time, it was about 2,800 miles south of Nampo, North Korea, where it had been photographed a month earlier. The complaint says that after taking the load of coal, the ship sailed south with it toward Indonesia.
The vessel has since been taken into custody by the U.S.