Maritime Firm Under Investigation Owns Vessels Tied to Suspicious Operations

By Priscilla Kim

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Vessels owned by a South Korean firm reportedly under investigation for violating United Nations sanctions against North Korea have disabled their location transponders in waters known to be hotspots for illicit sanctions evasion activity, Kharon found.

Who is involved: Busan, South Korea-based Young Sung Global Co., Ltd transferred ownership of the oil tanker Sin Phyong 5 to North Korea-based Korea Myongryu Trading Co, as of October 2020, according to a report by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), a project of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. 

In the wake of the report, a South Korean official told Yonhap News that Young Sung Global is under investigation due to the alleged transfer. U.N. sanctions prohibit the transfer to North Korea of any vessels, except in cases approved in advance. Norway, chair of the U.N. Security Council's North Korea sanctions committee, said that “appropriate measures will be taken” depending on the results of the probe, South Korean media reported.

Young Sung’s maritime network: According to maritime records, Young Sung Global also owns and operates the vessel No. 2 Green Pioneer, which shut off its Automatic Identification System (AIS) in December 2020 in the East China Sea, a region highlighted by the U.S. as an area associated with North Korea ship-to-ship transfers. Turning off a vessel’s AIS is an indicator of potential sanctions evasion, according to U.S. government advisories

The No. 2 Green Pioneer’s technical manager, South Korea-based LodeStar Marine Co., Ltd., was also the operator of the vessel P. Pioneer, when it was alleged by the South Korean coast guard to have supplied diesel to North Korea through two ship-to-ship transfers in September 2017 in the East China Sea. The P. Pioneer is now known as the Jal Laxmi; North Korea continues to violate U.N. sanctions in part through ship-to-ship transfers, investigators found.

The vessel No. 3 Green Pioneer, seen in 2014. (Source: EZEK, via Flickr)

In July 2018, Young Sung Global Co., Ltd. bought the vessel No. 3 Green Pioneer from South Korea-based Heung-A Shipping Co., Ltd., according to media reporting. The No. 3 Green Pioneer shut off its AIS transponder in the East China Sea in December 2020, maritime records show. 

In addition, the No. 3 Green Pioneer’s International Maritime Organization (IMO) number was used by a China-flagged vessel named “0”, according to maritime data. The IMO number is unique to a vessel and remains unchanged throughout its lifetime. As of May 17, the IMO names Young Sung Global as the owner of the No. 3 Green Pioneer; however, the South Korean registry identifies JW Shipping as the vessel’s owner as of June 4, 2021, indicating a change in the past month. A pattern of ownership or management changes is another indicator of potential maritime sanctions evasion, according to U.S. guidance. 

Heung-A Shipping continues to manage the vessel, according to maritime records. Heung-A Shipping Co., Ltd was also the operator of the vessel AS Constantina, which carried a July 2019 shipment of household products imported by Dalian Myunghae International Co., Ltd, a Chinese trading company that focuses on the North Korean market, Kharon reported last year