Maldives launches probe into tanker in N. Korea sanctions breach

Maldives defence ministry on Wednesday vowed a serious probe into the vessel which had been flying the Maldives flag suspected of transferring goods to a North Korean tanker in defiance of United Nations (UN) Security Council sanctions.

The Japanese government on Tuesday had published further evidence of North Korean vessels engaged in ship-to-ship (STS) transfers on high seas which is prohibited under UN Security Council sanctions.

The North Korean-flagged tanker 'Chon Ma San', designated by the United States as a sanction target, was spotted by a Japanese surveillance plane with the Maldivian-flagged tanker 'Xin Yuan 18' some 250 km (156 miles) east of Shanghai on Saturday, the Japanese foreign ministry had said in a statement.

Maldives defence ministry in a statement reiterated that 'Xin Yuan 18' was not a vessel registered in the Maldives.

Similar to the transport authority statement earlier, the ministry also noted that Maldives does not grant open ship registration to sail outside the country in international waters under the Maldivian flag.

However, the statement said the ministry would investigate and prevent the vessel from using the Maldivian flag in its operations.

North Korea last year conducted dozens of missile launches and its sixth and largest nuclear test as it pursues its goal of developing a nuclear armed missile capable of reaching the United States, triggering deeper U.N. Security Council sanctions.

Washington on Friday slapped sanctions on dozens more companies and vessels linked to North Korea’s shipping trade and urged the United Nations to blacklist a list of entities, a move it said was aimed at shutting down North Korea’s illicit maritime smuggling activities to obtain oil and sell coal.