WASHINGTON — The United States has seized a North Korean shipping vessel in response to violating American-led sanctions, the Justice Department announced Thursday, a move that is certain to escalate tensions already on the rise between the two nations because ofrecent North Korean weapons tests.
Prosecutors said the carrier ship, the Wise Honest, was being used to export North Korean coal, a critical sector of the North’s economy that the United States and the United Nations have aggressively imposed sanctions on in an effort to force Pyongyang to end its nuclear weapons program.
This is the first time the United States seized a North Korean cargo vessel for international sanctions violations, the Justice Department said.
“This sanctions-busting ship is now out of service,” John C. Demers, the head of the Justice Department’s national security division, said in a statement.
The civil action came asNorth Korea’s weapons testsover the past several days have threatened the disarmament discussions that President Trump opened. Mr. Trump and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un,abruptly ended their last meetingthis year when Mr. Trump refused to ease sanctions unless the North dismantled all of its nuclear weapons.
American banks unwittingly serviced payments for maintenance, equipment, and improvements of the Wise Honest, the Justice Department said, in violation of sanctions.
Thecomplaint seeking the vessel’s forfeiturewas filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan on Thursday by the United States attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, and the ship was already in United States custody, the department said.
Eileen Sullivan reported from Washington, and Benjamin Weiser from New York.