SEOUL, South Korea – A North Korean ship tracked by the U.S. Navy because it was suspected of carrying illicit cargo and which reversed course without delivering its load has likely arrived back home, a South Korean official said Tuesday.
A U.S. admiral said the reversal demonstrates the success of U.N. sanctions aimed at punishing the communist nation for its May 25 nuclear test and curbing any of its efforts to export military technology.
The Kang Nam I is believed to have entered the port of Nampo on North Korea’s western coast late Monday, said a South Korean Defence Ministry official, who spoke of condition of anonymity, citing department policy. He said South Korea was trying to obtain confirmation of the vessel’s return.
The U.S. Navy tracked the cargo vessel after it left port last month. The ship, which was believed destined for Myanmar, suddenly turned back on June 28.
The Kang Nam 1, which has drawn attention in the past for suspected proliferation activities, was the first ship to be monitored under a U.N. Security Council resolution passed last month to punish North Korea after its May 25 nuclear test.
It bans North Korea from selling all arms and weapons-related material, and allows other countries to request boarding and inspection of suspected ships, though the vessels do not have to give permission.
North Korea has said it would consider interception of its ships a declaration of war. It did not comment Monday or Tuesday on the Kang Nam 1.
The reclusive nation has engaged in a series of provocative acts this year and increased tensions Saturday, firing seven ballistic missiles into the ocean off its east coast in violation of U.N. resolutions. It was the North’s biggest display of missile firepower in three years.
The chief of U.S. Naval operations, Adm. Gary Roughead, said Monday in Seoul that the ship’s pending return showed that efforts are working to enforce U.N. sanctions.
“I think that’s an indication of the way the international community came together,” Roughead said of the ship’s reversal.
He called the monitoring of the Kang Nam I “a very effective way” of stopping proliferation, and said the Navy will continue to conduct operations that support the effort to sanction the North.
Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council issued a condemnation of North Korea’s recent missile tests after a closed meeting Monday in New York.
Uganda U.N. Ambassador Ruhakana Rugunda, who holds the council’s rotating presidency, said members “condemned and expressed grave concerns” at the missile launches, which violate U.N. resolutions and “pose a threat to regional and international security.”
Japan requested Monday’s Security Council meeting. Japanese U.N. Ambassador Yukio Takasu said the council should act “calmly and responsibly” and focus on enforcing existing resolutions.
“Those are very effective measures if everyone implements them,” Takasu said.
Japan has asked all Southeast Asian nations, except junta-ruled Myanmar, to enforce the U.N.’s North Korea resolutions, he said. Takasu also credited the new resolutions with forcing the North Korean ship to turn back.
Speculation has included the possibility the Kang Nam 1 was carrying weapons, possibly to Myanmar. The ship has been suspected of transporting banned goods to the Southeast Asian country in the past.
Malaysia, meanwhile, pledged Monday to work with the United States to block the North from using the Southeast Asian nation’s banks to fund any weapons deals.
The assurance came as Philip Goldberg, a U.S. envoy in charge of co-ordinating the implementation of sanctions against Pyongyang, met with Malaysian officials.
South Korean media have reported that North Korea sought payment through a bank in Malaysia for the suspected shipment of weapons to Myanmar via the Kang Nam I.
U.S. Treasury Undersecretary Stuart Levey is also travelling to China and Hong Kong this week to gain support for U.S. efforts to keep North Korea from using banks and businesses to buy and sell missile and nuclear technology. He arrives Monday and will meet with government officials and private sector executives Wednesday through Friday.
Associated Press writers Jae-soon Chang and Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul; Julia Zappei in Kuala Lumpur; and Ron DePasquale at United Nations headquarters in New York contributed to this report.