North Korea reflagging ships to evade sanctions - UN

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The North Korean-flagged cargo ship Chong Chon Gang sits docked at the Manzanillo International container terminal on the coast of Colon City, Panama, 14 August, 2013.Image source, AP
Image caption,
The Chong Chon Gang was found to be carrying arms and munitions under bags of sugar

A North Korea shipping company has been renaming and reflagging its vessels so it can evade an arms embargo, a UN report has said.

North Korea is subject to strict sanctions because of its nuclear weapons programme.

The sanctions were extended to Ocean Maritime Management (OMM) last year after one of its ships was found to be importing weapons from Cuba.

The UN Security Council is to discuss the report on Thursday.

The report, from a panel of experts monitoring the sanctions, said OMM had renamed 13 of its 14 ships, and transferred their ownership to shell companies, which meant they were effectively erased from the blacklist database.

"These changes are likely a strategy to evade assets freezes by member states," said the report, quoted by AFP news agency. The company has operations in at least 10 countries.

The report also said that despite the sanctions, North Korea was continuing to "attempt to procure or transfer items relating to its nuclear and missile programmes".

Under United Nations sanctions, North Korea is banned from weapons exports and the import of all but small arms.

But in July 2013, the North Korea vessel Chong Chon Gang was stopped in Panama on suspicion of carrying drugs.

Police found undeclared Cuban military cargo hidden on board, hidden under bags of sugar in its hold.

The authorities in Havana admitted being behind the stash, saying they were Soviet-era arms from Cuba headed for repair in North Korea.

The UN's North Korea sanctions committee said at the time that OMM had "played a key role in arranging the shipment of the concealed cargo of arms".

Image source, AP