Russian tankers have supplied fuel to North Korea on at least three occasions in recent months by transferring cargoes at sea, according to two senior Western European security sources, providing an economic lifeline to the secretive Communist state.
Both sources referred to naval intelligence and satellite imagery to back up their claims of Russian ships aiding in North Korea's efforts to secure oil and fuel despite an global crackdown to cut off Pyongyang in hopes of curbing its nuclear missile program.
The sales of oil or oil products from Russian Federation, the world's second biggest oil exporter and a veto-wielding member of the United Nations Security Council, breach UN sanctions, the security sources said.
The second source, who also confirmed the illicit activity, told Reuters, "there is no evidence that this is backed by the Russian state".
South Korea's customs service concluded that the Lighthouse Winmore had loaded about 14,000 tons of Japanese refined petroleum products in South Korea on October 11, reportedly bound for Taiwan, the South Korea official said.
South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper this week quoted South Korean government sources as saying that U.S. spy satellites had detected Chinese ships transferring oil to North Korean vessels about 30 times since October. President Trump and South Korea seem to think so.
A similar ship-to-ship transfer involving another North Korean ship, Rye Song Gang 1, was captured in satellite photos released by the US Treasury Department on November 21, although the department did not release the name of the other ship involved in the high-seas transaction.
"It's unclear how much oil the ship had transferred to North Korea, for how long and on how many occasions, but it clearly showed North Korea is engaged in evading the sanctions", the official told Reuters.
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Taipei said the Billions Bunker Group is not incorporated in Taiwan but in the Marshall Islands, and that it would "continue to fully comply" with United Nations sanctions against North Korea.
The Vityaz left the port of Slavyanka near Vladivostok in Russia on 15 October with 1,600 tonnes of oil, according to Russian port control documents.
The U.S. has repeatedly called China a pivotal player in the effort to convince North Korea to rein in its nuclear program and ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
-China on Friday denied reports it has been illicitly selling oil products to North Korea after US President Donald Trump said he was not happy that China had allowed oil to reach the isolated nation.
USA officials have not confirmed details of this report.
It wasn't immediately clear whether the Lighthouse Winmore was involved in the transactions shown in the Treasury images.
"Absolutely no, this is very risky", Guk told Reuters by telephone.
It accused the vessels of "conducting illegal ship-to-ship transfers of refined petroleum products to North Korean vessels or illegally transporting North Korean coal to other countries for exports". The ship's registered manager, Lighthouse Ship Management, is in the Chinese port of Guangzhou.