Investigation Shows N.Korea Smuggling Coal to China

  • By Sung Ho-chul

    July 01, 2022 13:05

    North Korea has been smuggling large amounts of coal to China despite international sanctions that ban exports from the renegade country, the Nikkei reported on Thursday.

    The UN Security Council adopted a resolution five years ago banning the UN member nations from importing North Korean coal in case the proceeds fund Pyongyang's nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. China is one of the five permanent members of the UNSC.

    Based on data from the automatic identification systems of about 180 North Korean ships over the past year and six months, the Japanese daily reported that more than 50 of them entered Chinese ports with coal-loading berths.


    The AIS automatically transmits a ship's location but can be turned off by clandestine operators. To be on the safe side, the daily then cross-checked AIS data with satellite images from Earth imaging firm Planet Labs.

    They show for example that the North Korean freighter Taephyong 2 left the port of Nampo on Aug. 9, 2021 after loading coal the previous day. The ship entered the Chinese port of Longkou in Yantai, Shandong Province on Aug. 13 and remained there until Aug. 26.

    Satellite imagery shows dark blotches around the ship's hull that look like heaps of coal.

    The daily said the North no longer tries to disconnect or switch off the AIS, perhaps for fear of attracting even more attention if ships disappear from the radar.

    Coal is North Korea's mainstay export and used to earn it US$1.1 billion worth of hard currency a year, accounting for 40 percent of all shipments. Officially there were zero coal exports from North Korea since the USNC sanctions.

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