The U.S. State Department on Monday acknowledged that a Navy warship in late May interdicted a North Korean ship, which reports this week said was believed to be transporting missile components to Myanmar, Reuters reported (see GSN, June 13).
The destroyer USS McCampbell intercepted the cargo vessel M/V Light, which was registered in Belize, on May 26 in waters south of Shanghai.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner would not discuss what the ship was carrying or where it was heading.
"We talked directly with the North Koreans to stress the importance of not engaging in proliferation-related transfers," he said.
"We learned that the ship, the vessel, changed course at sea, and we believe it returned to North Korea," Toner added.
U.N. Security Council resolutions ban all missile- and nuclear-related commerce with Pyongyang. A 2010 resolution by the international body permits any U.N. nation to search North Korean cargo shipped by land, sea or air.
The USS McCampbell requested permission to send personnel to the cargo ship after receiving authorization from Belize but was refused access by the North Koreans, Toner said. "The ship's master refusing us permission to board it, as well as the fact that it turned around and headed back to North Korea, speaks to ... some of our concerns about its cargo" (Eckert/Allen, Reuters/Yahoo!News, June 13).
White House point man for arms control and nonproliferation Gary Samore on Monday said the North Korean ship was believed to be loaded with weapons-related cargo, the Yonhap News Agency reported.
Local news organizations reported the vessel's operators opted to sail back to North Korea under the assumption that the cargo would be searched if the ship landed at another country.
Samore confirmed U.S. efforts to lobby nations in the region to inspect the M/V Light if it docked in one of their ports.
"We talked directly to all the Southeast Asian countries, including Myanmar, urging them to inspect the ship if it called into their port," Samore told Yonhap.
"The U.S. Navy also contacted the North Korean ship as it was sailing to ask them where they were going and what cargo they were carrying," he said.
In 2009, a different North Korean vessel was made to break off its journey to Myanmar after its cargo came under suspicion for containing missile technology.
"I think what this shows is that if the international community works together and pays attention, then we have a very good chance of preventing North Korea from exporting military-related commodities that are prohibited by [Security Council resolution] 1874," the White House official said.
"Obviously, in Southeast Asia, which is a very peaceful part of the world, it would be a real problem if North Korea sells destabilizing technology to Myanmar," Samore said. "So, we're working directly with the Burmese government as well."
The United States has long been worried over suspected illegal North Korean-Burmese military dealings, particularly potential nuclear-related sales to the Southeast Asian state (Yonhap News Agency, June 13).