[The ANL Australia, photo from here]
The ship was on its way to Iran, carrying weapons whose trade is embargoed by UNSCR 1874:
Diplomats at the UN identified the vessel as the Bahamian-flagged ANL-Australia. The vessel was seized some weeks ago. The UN sanctions committee has written to the Iranian and North Korean governments pointing out that the shipment puts them in violation of UN resolution 1974. [Financial Times, Simeon Kerr and Harvey Morris]
Because they probably had no idea. (Note — the article misstates the number of the U.N. resolution.)
The authorities seized “military components”, but the vessel has since departed, a person familiar with UAE thinking said. The seizure took place in the UAE, but not the shipping hub of Dubai, the person added.
This report gets a bit more specific about the cargo:
Diplomats told the Financial Times that the vessel is still being held in the UAE, adding that various forms of basic weaponry, including rocket-propelled grenades ““ which had been labeled as machine parts ““ were found onboard. [Washington TV]
Rocket-propelled grenades are some of the least expensive, most ubiquitous weapons in the world. The Soviet designed RPG-2 and RPG-7 are particularly cheap and common models, although they’re still extremely potent weapons.
[image from here]
It’s difficult to imagine that Iran, a country that manufactures explosively-formed penetrators and supplies them to terrorists, would need to import any of those. Then again, the North Koreans were recently reported to be reengineering, manufacturing, and exporting sophisticated Russian-designed Kornet antitank missiles to Syria for Hezbollah’s use.
President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. Discuss.
Previously, North Korea’s Kang Nam I turned back before arriving from Burma, apparently after Burmese officials were pressured to agree to search the ship. More recently, Indian authorities boarded and searched a North Korean ship, but apparently found no prohibited cargo. All teasing about “angry letters” aside, UNSCR 1874 seems to be having a real effect on North Korea’s arms trafficking. A resolution is as good as its implementation, of course. This time, the implementation has been far better than it was after UNSCR 1695 and 1718, passed in 2006 after a round of North Korean missile tests and a nuke test, respectively.
The seizure of this shipment reveals North Korea’s flagrant violation of at least the latest of these resolutions just as North Korea launches another of its periodic displays of superficial non-belligerence, which is what passes for charm in North Korean terms. If they’re smiling sweetly, it probably means they’re stabbing us in the back.
Hat tips and thanks to two readers.
Update: The Wall Street Journal adds that the shipment also included detonators, and notes that the seizure will likely trigger investigations in several countries:
According to the Security Council diplomat, the weapons were carried on an Australian vessel, the ANL-Australia, which was flying under a Bahamian flag. According to an Aug. 14 letter sent to the U.N. sanctions committee, the exporting company was an Italian shipper, Otim, which exported the items from its Shanghai office.
“The cargo manifest said the shipment contained oil-boring machines, but then you opened it up and there were these items,” the diplomat said. ANL and Otim officials couldn’t immediately be reached to comment. [....]
The Security Council official said the sanctions committee will conduct its own investigation and is likely to send out letters to all countries who had companies involved in the shipment, including Italy, Australia and France, where the parent company of ANL is based.
“All of these countries are going to be investigating, interacting with their shipping firms, with their private sector and saying: There was a possible violation here. What are you doing to make sure you have total transparency on all exports and imports into North Korea?” the diplomat said. “That’s why this matters.”
A spokeswoman for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the Australian government is aware of the incident and is investigating to determine whether any Australian laws may have been broken. [Wall Street Journal, Peter Spiegel and Chip Cummins]
This is probably the least dramatic and most significant part of the story, because what it’s likely to lead to a cooperative, multinational investigation of North Korea’s proliferation networks — how they solicit, conceal, and finance their transactions; which individuals, agencies, and trading companies are involved in arranging them; where their bank accounts are; and how they recoup their profits without having their assets blocked by Treasury. It may also lead to the blocking of additional North Korean assets and accounts. The weapons themselves are secondary. The proliferation network and it financial tendrils are the issue. This could be a significant blow to both.
The Journal also says the seizure “could also raise fresh questions about North Korea’s intentions.” Not to me it wouldn’t, but it might to that great mass of unteachable people who are easily swayed by atmospherics.