On 8 December 2020, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated six entities and identified four vessels related to the transport of North Korean coal.
The companies in question are China-based Weihai Huijiang Trade Ltd, UK-registered Always Smooth Ltd, UK-registered Good Siblings Ltd, Hong Kong-based Silver Bridge Shipping Co-HKG, Korea Daizin Trading Corporation which operates in North Korea and Vietnam and Vietnam-based Thinh Cuong Co Ltd.
What is more, the vessels Calm Bridge, Asia Bridge, Lucky Star and Star 18 have been identified as blocked property. All four ships loaded coal directly from North Korean ports and transported their cargo throughout the region. For many of the vessels, this activity dates back several years.
According to the US Treasury, such actions address the transportation and exportation of North Korean coal in violation of UN Security Council resolution (UNSCR) 2371 and underscore that entities within the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have continued to engage in activities prohibited under the UNSCRs.
“The DPRK continues to circumvent the UN prohibition on the exportation of coal, a key revenue generator that helps fund its weapons of mass destruction programs,” Steven T. Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury, said.
“The North Korean regime often uses forced labor from prison camps in its mining industries, including coal, exploiting its own people to advance its illicit weapons programs.”
Weihai, Always Smooth and Good Siblings
Pursuant to E.O. 13810 for operating in the transportation industry in North Korea, OFAC designed the three aforementioned companies. OFAC also identified the general cargo vessel Asia Bridge as blocked property in which Weihai and Good Siblings have an interest and the roll-on/lift-off (RoLo) vessel Lucky Star as blocked property in which Weihai and Always Smooth have an interest.
While owned and controlled by Weihai and Good Siblings, the 1991-built Asia Bridge loaded coal and underwent repairs in a North Korean port prior to departing.
Similarly, while owned and controlled by Weihai and Always Smooth, the 1991-built Lucky Star loaded coal in a North Korean port and then traveled to Vietnam.
OFAC designated the company Silver Bridge pursuant to E.O. 13810 for operating in the transportation industry in North Korea and further identified the general cargo vessel Calm Bridge as blocked property in which Silver Bridge has an interest.
While under the ownership and control of Silver Bridge, the 1984-built Calm Bridge loaded coal at Wonsan Port in North Korea, after which it departed the North Korean port.
OFAC also designated Korea Daizin Trading pursuant to E.O. 13687 for being an agency, instrumentality, or controlled entity of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and E.O. 13722 for having directly or indirectly sold, supplied, transferred, or purchased coal to or from North Korea where revenue may have benefited the Government of North Korea or WPK.
Since as early as mid-2016, Daizin Trading has exported coal from North Korea. In at least one instance, Daizin Trading has claimed that the coal is of Russian origin, obfuscating its North Korean origin.
Daizin Trading’s export activities are estimated to include the transport of thousands of tons of coal and iron ore to Vietnam, OFAC said.
Finally, OFAC designated Thinh Cuong pursuant to E.O. 13810 for operating in the transportation industry in North Korea.
OFAC also identified the 1991-built tweendecker Star 18 as blocked property in which Thinh Cuong has an interest.
While under the ownership and control of Thinh Cuong, the Vietnam-flagged Star 18 loaded coal from Songnim Port, North Korea, and traveled to a Vietnamese port, according to OFAC.
In May this year, OFAC, the US Department of State and the US Coast Guard (USCG) issued a global advisory to alert the maritime industry, and those active in the energy and metals sectors, to what they described as ‘deceptive shipping practices’ used to evade sanctions, with a focus on Iran, North Korea, and Syria.