North Korea on Tuesday demanded the return of a cargo ship seized by Washington last week for violating international sanctions, calling it an “unlawful and outrageous act”.
On Friday, the US Justice Department said it had taken possession of the North Korea-registered bulk carrier M/V Wise Honest, one year after it was detained in Indonesia, citing illicit sanctions-busting activities.
It was the first time a North Korean cargo vessel had been seized by the US for sanctions violations, after several years of high seas cat-and-mouse games in which Korean shippers disguised vessels, used false flags and turned off their tracking transponders to avoid discovery.
A spokesman for the North’s foreign ministry slammed the move on Tuesday, saying it was an “outright denial” of the spirit of a statement signed by leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump at their landmark summit in Singapore last June.
“The United States committed an unlawful and outrageous act of dispossessing our cargo ship… linking the ship to the ‘sanctions resolutions’ of the United Nations Security Council,” the spokesman said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
The move was an “extension of the American method” of seeking to bring Pyongyang “to its knees” through maximum pressure, he said.
“The US should ponder over the consequences its heinous act might have on the future developments and immediately return our ship,” the statement added.
North Korea is sanctioned under multiple UN Security Council resolutions for its nuclear and missile programmes, and lifting of some of the measures was a key demand at a second Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi in February that ultimately broke down without a deal.
The announcement of the US seizure of the vessel came as tensions rose over Pyongyang’s test launches of short-range missiles last week.