Philippines bars N.Korea-linked ship from leaving port over safety issues

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March 4, 2016 – SINGAPORE/MANILA: The Philippines Coast Guard has banned a North Korean freighter from leaving port until safety deficiencies, found during a security and safety inspection of the vessel, are rectified, officials said on Friday.

The inspection was ordered by the Coast Guard headquarters in Manila after the vessel was included on a list of 31 ships covered by harsher sanctions on North Korea that were approved by the United Nations over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

The Philippines Coast Guard has become the first to carry out a UN-mandated inspection on Jin Teng, a general cargo vessel associated with North Korean trades.

On boarding the Chinese-owned, Sierra-Leone-flagged vessel, the Coast Guard commander Raul Belesario, speaking to AP, said that no suspicious materials were found, despite the new list of banned trades which includes exports of coal, iron, iron ore, gold, titanium and rare earth minerals from the DPRK.

The vessel belongs to Chinese owner Golden Soar Development, and is known to be associated with trades to North Korea It is one of a number of ships being targeted by the UN which are owned by companies in Hong Kong and China, rather than DPRK.

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The 6,830 dead-weight tonne (dwt) general cargo ship Jin Teng was one of the first sanctioned North Korean ships to enter a foreign port since the tightened sanctions were passed unanimously by the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday.

Three Coast Guard officials, accompanied by a dogs trained to detect explosives, searched the ship and checked crew documents on Thursday after the ship docked at Subic Bay, a former U.S. naval base and now commercial port, a coast guard commander told Reuters.

Nothing suspicious was found on the ship or its 21 North Korean crew, although several minor safety problems including issues with firefighting and electrical equipment meant the ship could not leave port until they were fixed, the commander said.

“Our headquarters directed that as this vessel was on the (U.N.) list then it should be inspected thoroughly,” said the commander, who declined to give his name because he was not authorised to the media.

The ship, which is registered in Sierra Leone, was continuing to unload its cargo of palm kernel, he added.

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ASSET FREEZE

If a ship is designated by the U.N., its owners would find it difficult to get the vessel insured, refueled or even call at foreign ports, industry experts said.

“I doubt that anyone will touch the ships as far as international insurers go and they may be prevented from trading to most places as a result,” said one shipping lawyer.

But a second lawyer said ships such as the Jin Teng might be able to continue some trade because, although the U.N. Security Council voted to impose tougher sanctions, it would be up to individual member countries to pass legislation to enforce them.

“U.N. security council resolutions aren’t always directly applicable in member states: it’s up to member states to implement them into domestic law,” said the lawyer, specialising in international sanctions, who declined to be named citing client confidentiality.

The Jin Teng has called at Palembang, in Indonesia, and Kaohsiung, in Taiwan, since the beginning of this year, ship tracking data available on the Reuters Eikon Terminal showed.

The registered owner is Golden Soar Development, which has an address in Hong Kong’s Tsim Sha Tsui tourist district, according to the Equasis shipping database hosted by the French transport ministry, although there was no telephone listing for the company.

The Jin Teng is among seven of the targeted ships that are owned by companies in Hong Kong and China, according to shipping databases.

The U.N. resolution said the 31 ships were “economic resources controlled or operated by Ocean Maritime Management and therefore subject to the asset freeze”.

Ocean Maritime Management was blacklisted by the U.N. in July 2014 after the North Korean freighter Chong Chon Gang was detained in Panama in 2013 for carrying arms, including two MiG-21 jet fighters, hidden under thousands of tonnes of sugar.

While most of the ships have operated between ports in China and North Korea, ship tracking data showed several have called at ports around Asia during the last six months.
Credit REUTERS
Mary Greeley News