South Korea holds Panama oil tanker suspected of North Korea trade

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The Sam Jong 2 was one of four North Korean ships that was blocked from global ports by the UN Security Council on Thursday over suspicions of carrying or transporting goods banned by sanctions targeting Pyongyang's weapons ambitions, diplomats told AFP.

The 5,100-tonne KOTI was detained two weeks ago at the South's port of Pyeongtaek-Dangjin and its crew are being investigated over the alleged ship-to-ship transfers, Yonhap news agency cited local maritime officials as saying.

A United Nations resolution unanimously approved in September following the latest and most powerful nuclear test by Pyongyang, from October 1, 2017 limited the supply of crude oil to North Korea.

The UN Security Council has imposed three sets of sanctions on the North this year to try to halt its nuclear and ballistic missile tests. "As for the KOTI, an investigation is underway", a foreign ministry spokeswoman told CNN by telephone.

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The Seoul government announced Friday it is investigating a Hong Kong-flagged ship named the Lighthouse Winmore for allegedly transferring oil to a North Korean vessel in global waters on October 19.

It is the second known vessel under probe by South Korea on suspicions of ship-to-ship supplies of petroleum products to North Korea, banned under the global sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs.

The US Treasury Department released satellite imagery in November of two ships allegedly performing an illegal ship-to-ship transfer in global waters on the same day.

The Lighthouse Winmore visited Yeosu on October 11 and loaded some 14,000 tonnes of Japanese refined oil before heading towards its purported destination in Taiwan.

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China also denied reports it had been illicitly selling oil products to North Korea in defiance of UN sanctions, after US President Donald Trump said he was unhappy that China had allowed oil to reach the isolated nation.

The Hong Kong government said in a statement Friday it had noted media reports that the Lighthouse Winmore had been seized.

The Lighthouse Winmore was one of 10 ships the United States asked the United Nations to ban from global ports this month over its alleged dealings with North Korea, according to Reuters. The KOTI does not seem to be included on the list. It is Panamanian flagged.

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