Authorities reported on Saturday that the Chong Bong sank roughly 30 miles off of Japan’s Oki Islands. The Chong Bong reportedly alerted the Japanese Maritime Security Agency (MSA) that it had begun to take on water, after which time the crew boarded lifeboats. The crew was rescued by a small North Korean tanker several hours later, with no reported injuries and no crewmembers reported as missing.
Japanese authorities reported that the Chong Bong was transporting iron from the port of Chongjin on North Korea’s east coast to the west coast port of Songnim. Officials also reported the presence of a large oil slick near the location that the Chong Bong went down, and are carrying out an investigation into the contents of the ship’s cargo.
In 2016, both the Chong Bong and its parent company, Chong Bong Shipping Co. LTD, were added to the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control’s (OFAC) list of Specially Designated Nationals (SDN). Prior to its sinking, the Chong Bong remained on OFAC’s SDN list.
In addition to unilateral U.S. sanctions, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has also levied sanctions against North Korea on nine separate occasions dating back to 2006 in response to activities related to the DPRK’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. The more recent UNSC sanctions resolutions levied against North Korea, adopted in response to accelerated nuclear and ballistic missile testing, have included sweeping sanctions measures targeting specific sectors of the North Korean economy. These broader sectoral sanctions measures were enacted in order to prevent North Korea from accessing resources and materials needed to continue the development of its strategic weapons program, as well as to prevent it from generating the funds necessary to enable such development.
North Korea has employed a wide range of techniques designed to evade the international sanctions regime, including the use of foreign middle men and state trading company operatives embedded in foreign countries as well as the use of diplomatic personnel as procurement operatives. North Korea has also engaged in illicit maritime practices designed to evade sanctions, including illegal ship-to-ship transfers, falsification of documents and records, obscuration of ship identities, and altering and shutting off ship’s Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) while at sea.
Accidents and sometimes even fatal incidents involving North Korean ships have become more common in recent years as North Korea’s aging fleet of cargo ships continues to engage in dangerous and illegal practices at sea.
International sanctions have thus far not prevented the continued development of North Korea’s various weapons programs. In October of 2020, North Korea unveiled its largest model of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) so far, while in March of this year the DPRK tested what it reported to be a new model of advanced short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM).
Eli Fuhrman is a contributing writer for The National Interest.