Sanctions do not mean much if they are not enforced. The UN has been imposing increasingly stricter limitations on the importation of crude and refined oil to North Korea. Still, oil has been getting through. In the past few days, South Korea has seized two tankers; the Koti, an 8,000 dwt Panamanian-flagged product tanker, and the 16,500 dwt, Hong Kong-flagged, Lighthouse Winmore. Both tankers are believed to have been making at-sea transfers of oil to North Korean tankers, in violation of the UN embargo.
Who is behind the oil smuggling? In the case of the most recently seized ships, it is currently unclear who is supplying the oil. In earlier transfers, however, the evidence suggests that Russian sources have been behind the smuggling. Reuters reports: Russian tankers have supplied fuel to North Korea on at least three occasions in recent months by transferring cargoes at sea, according to two senior Western European security sources, providing an economic lifeline to the secretive Communist state.
The transfers in October and November indicate that smuggling from Russia to North Korea has evolved to loading cargoes at sea since Reuters reported in September that North Korean ships were sailing directly from Russia to their homeland.
“The Russian vessels made transfers at sea to the North Koreans,” the first security source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters. The source said the transfers of oil or oil products took place on several occasions and were a breach of sanctions.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has denied that Russia is behind the oil smuggling to North Korea.
China has also been accused of smuggling oil to North Korea. The Chinese also deny violating the sanctions.