Int'l probing into Maldives flag flying tanker case

Defense Minister Adam Shareef on Sunday has claimed the case of a high-seas ship-to-ship (STS) transfer between two vessels - one identified a North Korean vessel with the other hoisting Maldives flag - has become an international investigation.

At a press conference held Minister Shareef stated the situation is sensitive as the STS between a US sanctioned North Korea and the alleged vessel of Maldives has become a critical international politics scandal.

Shareef confirmed that while the investigation is carried out internationally with several countries involved, Maldives has been cooperating with the probe by delivering all relevant information about the case as well.

He also linked the ongoing state of emergency in Maldives with the STS transfer between both countries, strongly hinting an international conspiracy to overthrow the island nation's government.

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 transport authority however in a statement denied any links to the vessel insisting that 'Xin Yuan 18' was not a vessel registered in the Maldives.

The statement also said authority does not allow any foreign vessel to register in the Maldives to sail outside the country in international waters.

Meanwhile Maldives police had arrested a local businessman now identified as Abdulla Fahmy on March 5 in connection to the incident.

Police have now accused the suspect of funding a plot to overthrow the government, forging documents of the transport authority and creating a fake email account of a top transport authority official to communicate with the international maritime organization.

Fahmy has also been accused of creating call signs for a vessel not registered in the Maldives and using the country's flag on an unregistered vessel.

The arrest came days after the Maldives authorities had insisted that the tanker was not a vessel registered in the Maldives

The government had also said Maldives does not grant open ship registration to sail outside the country in international waters under the Maldivian flag.

According a guaranteed local source the vessel appears to be registered to a Taiwanese origin corporation named Uni-Freight Logistics Co Ltd., and the vessel originated from Niue - a small island nation in the South Pacific Ocean, neighbors to New Zealand.

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.