Russian tankers fueled North Korea via transfers at sea

Russian tankers have supplied fuel to North Korea on at least three occasions in recent months by transferring cargoes at sea, according to two senior Western European security sources, providing an economic lifeline to the secretive Communist state.

The sales of oil or oil products via Russia, the planet’s second biggest oil exporter along having a veto-wielding member of the United Nations Security Council, breach U.N. sanctions, the security sources said.

The transfers in October along with November indicate in which smuggling via Russia to North Korea has evolved to loading cargoes at sea since Reuters reported in September in which North Korean ships were sailing directly via Russia to their homeland.

“Russian vessels have made ship-to-ship transfers of petrochemicals to North Korean vessels on several occasions This kind of year in breach of sanctions,” the first security source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters.

A second source, who independently confirmed the existence of the Russian ship-to-ship fuel trade with North Korea, said there was no evidence of Russian state involvement inside the latest transfers.

“There can be no evidence in which This kind of can be backed by the Russian state, although these Russian vessels are giving a lifeline to the North Koreans,” the second European security source said.

The two security sources cited naval intelligence along with satellite imagery of the vessels operating out of Russian Far Eastern ports on the Pacific although declined to disclose further details to Reuters, saying the item was classified.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry along with the Russian Customs Service both declined to comment when asked on Wednesday if Russian ships had supplied fuel to North Korean vessels. The owner of one ship accused of smuggling oil to North Korea denied any such activity.

The latest report came as China, responding on Friday to criticism via U.S. President Donald Trump, denied the item had illicitly shipped oil products to North Korea.

North Korea relies on imported fuel to keep its struggling economy functioning. the item also requires oil for its intercontinental ballistic missile along with nuclear program in which the United States says threatens the peace in Asia.

“The vessels are smuggling Russian fuel via Russian Far Eastern ports to North Korea,” said the first security source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Reuters was unable to independently verify in which the vessels had transferred fuel to North Korean vessels, whether the Russian state knew about the sales or how many Russian vessels were involved inside the transfers. the item was also unclear how much fuel may have been smuggled.

Ship satellite positioning data consulted by Reuters along with available on Reuters Eikon shows unusual movements by some of the Russian vessels named by the security sources including switching off the transponders which give a precise location.

The security sources said the Russian-flagged tanker Vityaz was one vessel in which had transferred fuel to North Korean vessels.

The Vityaz left the port of Slavyanka near Vladivostok in Russia on Oct. 15 with 1,0 tons of oil, according to Russian port control documents.

Documents submitted by the vessel’s agent to the Russian State Port Control authority showed its destination as a fishing fleet inside the Japan Sea. Shipping data showed the vessel switched off its transponder for a few days as the item sailed into open waters.

According to the European security sources, the Vityaz conducted a ship-to-ship transfer with the North Korean Flagged Sam Ma 2 tanker in open seas during October.

Reuters could not independently verify the transfer as ship tracking data showed in which the Sam Ma 2 had turned off its transponder via the start of August.

The owner of the Russian vessel denied any contact with North Korean vessels although also said the item was unaware in which the vessel was fuelling fishing boats.

Yaroslav Guk, deputy director of the tanker’s owner, Vladivostok-based Alisa Ltd, said the vessel had no contacts with North Korean vessels.

“Absolutely no, This kind of can be very dangerous,” Guk told Reuters by telephone. “the item might be complete madness.”

When contacted a second time, Guk said the vessel did not have any contacts with North Korean ships along with in which he might not answer further questions.

An official at East Coast Ltd, the vessel’s transport agent, declined to comment.

Two different Russian flagged tankers made similar journeys between the middle of October along with November, leaving via the ports of Slavyanka along with Nakhodka into open seas where they switched off their transponders, shipping data showed.

In September, Reuters reported in which at least eight North Korean ships in which left Russia loaded with fuel This kind of year headed for their homeland despite declaring different destinations, a ploy in which U.S. officials say can be often used to undermine sanctions.

A Russian shipping source with knowledge of Far Eastern marine practices said North Korean vessels had stopped loading fuel in Russia’s Far Eastern ports although in which fuel can be delivered at sea by tankers using ship-to-ship transfers, or even by fishing vessels.

China on Friday denied reports the item has been illicitly selling oil products to North Korea, after Trump said he was not happy in which China had allowed oil to reach the isolated nation.

The United States has proposed in which the United Nations Security Council blacklist 10 ships for transporting banned items via North Korea, according to documents seen by Reuters This kind of month.

The vessels are accused of “conducting illegal ship-to-ship transfers of refined petroleum products to North Korean vessels or illegally transporting North Korean coal to different countries for exports,” the United States said in its proposal.

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