South Pacific island nations are scouring shipping records for vessels with links to North Korea after Fiji said it had identified 20 falsely flagged ships it suspects North Korea is using to evade United Nations sanctions.
According to Reuters, Fiji, along with Interpol and the Singapore‑based regional shipping regulator Tokyo MOU, are investigating the vessels for links to North Korea.
The 18 members of the Pacific Islands Forum this month agreed to launch an audit of every ship registered in the Pacific to search for any links to North Korea.
New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Gerry Brownlee said Pacific countries, including his own, were concerned North Korea was using falsely flagged cargo ships as one avenue to trade goods in spite of sanctions.
The move came as the UN ramped up sanctions on North Korea, including tightening up oversight of vessels on the high seas.
Authorities will now be allowed to check suspected vessels for prohibited cargo with the authority of the flag country.
North Korea had been expected to earn an estimated $295 million from seafood in 2017.
The Maritime Safety Authority of Fiji says in Fiji’s case, the North Korean‑linked ships had adopted our flag without formally registering.
It was not known in what way the possibly more‑than 20 vessels were linked to North Korea or what their suspected activities or locations were.
MSAF declined to provide details due to the ongoing investigation.
In addition to the fraudulent use of flags, Pacific governments are concerned North Korean vessels could be quietly registering in nations that allow international ships to use their flags.
The review will take place over the next couple of months, and Australia and New Zealand will provide intelligence to help the small island nations check any North Korean connections.Listen to the latest news on our 5 radio stations Legend FM, Viti FM, Radio Sargam, FM96 and Navtarang.