US offers up to $5 million for info on North Korean shipper?
US Navy officials say they’re working to identify a possible North Korean ship that violated the country’s sovereignty and entered the Pacific, but US intelligence officers believe it could be a much larger ship.
They first learned of an unusual ship in October 2014, when a Chinese fisherman reported a mysterious ship was nearby and then saw several smaller vessels moving in a similar direction as they approached China’s exclusive economic zone.
In April 2015 Chinese officials confirmed the ship was a North Korean vessel, but officials did not explain why they believed the ship was violating North Korea’s territorial waters.
Since then, a combination of new information from the US, South Korean and Chinese officials, and an expanded search area has raised the Pentagon’s interest in a potential North Korean commercial vessel. Officials believe the vessel could be carrying up to 5,000-7,000 tons of coal.
Chinese sources familiar with maritime intelligence say the ship could be a North Korean-registered vessel, but US officials also suspect that is unlikely because North Korea’s own ship registry lists the ship in its port state.
If it is an official North Korean ship, it would raise questions of why the vessel has not yet been confiscated or arrested. But if the ship is a private commercial vessel, it also raises questions about China’s role in monitoring North Korean ships.
US Navy officials say they are working to determine if the ship is a commercial vessel and if it is registered with the North Korean authorities.
“In the meantime we’re asking any and all countries in the region to assist with our efforts,” US Pacific Fleet Admiral Scott Swift said. “We are in constant contact with the Chinese and South Korean authorities. We’re not saying we have definitive answers on the status of the vessel or its legitimacy to enter the South China Sea.
“If we do find out it’s a commercial vessel, our options will be clear. We can go after it in the South China Sea or we can take it under our maritime law enforcement authority