UN asks oil traders to shore up sanctions on North Korea

United Nations (United States) (AFP) –


UN sanctions experts are asking global commodity trading firms and oil companies to spell out what measures they are taking to prevent illegal oil shipments from reaching North Korea, the panel's coordinator said Tuesday.

The UN Security Council in December adopted a new round of sanctions that severely restricted oil supplies vital for North Korea's ballistic missile and nuclear programs.

"We are requesting information on what measures are being put in place by these companies to reduce the risk that products might be inadvertently, wittingly or unwittingly transferred to North Korea," said Hugh Griffiths, the coordinator of the UN panel of experts on North Korea.

Griffiths told AFP that illegal oil shipments were continuing to reach North Korea, despite a series of measures ordered by the Security Council to block supplies.

In March, the UN sanctions committee blacklisted 27 ships, 21 companies and a businessman for helping North Korea circumvent sanctions and smuggle in oil and banned commodities.

Letters were sent this month to 24 "major global commodity trading companies that focus on oil, but in particular refined petroleum products in the areas that the panel is monitoring and oil producers and oil refiners in those areas," said Griffiths.

He did not provide names of companies.

- Tracking ship transfers of oil -

Under UN sanctions resolutions, vessels that provide illegal shipments of oil to North Korea run the risk of being banned from ports worldwide.

Despite this risk, "the ship-to-ship-transfers are continuing", Griffiths said.

The practice involves North Korean tankers that obtain clandestine oil cargo in international waters from ships that often switch off their satellite tracking system to prevent any monitoring of their activities.

Griffiths said private companies could include in their contracts a provision that the vessel's Automatic Identifier System (AIS) must be turned on at all times.

He described such a clause "as an example of best practices. We are raising awareness around that."

Under the latest sanction resolution adopted in December, crude oil supplies to North Korea were capped at four million barrels per year and a ceiling of 500,000 barrels of refined oil products per year was set.

The UN move to enlist support from private companies to implement sanctions comes as President Donald Trump prepares for talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore on June 12.

The United States has made clear that economic sanctions on North Korea will remain in place until Pyongyang takes concrete steps to dismantle its military programs.

Other than restrictions on oil, UN sanctions resolutions ban North Korean exports of coal, iron and steel among other commodities, and set a December 2019 deadline for all North Koreans working abroad to be sent back.

The workers' earnings are considered a major source of hard currency revenue for Pyongyang.

The panel of experts is expected to present in August a mid-term report to the Security Council on the implementation of sanctions.