In a recent maritime development, an obscure Sierra Leone-flagged freighter, the Valiant, has made appearances in key North Korean ports, raising suspicions of its involvement in illicit activities, potentially in violation of United Nations sanctions.
The 1,361-ton Valiant departed from Kaohsiung, Taiwan, on September 28, making its way to North Korea’s major port, Nampho, on September 30, and arriving at Songnim, an upstream DPRK port on the Taedong River, on October 4, according to data from Marine Traffic.
What has experts concerned is the freighter’s questionable history and discrepancies in ownership information found in various databases. Fleetmon lists the Valiant as a grain carrier built in 2005, registered under the International Maritime Organization (IMO) identification number 6670030, which doesn’t seem to be linked to any known vessel in IMO, Tokyo Memorandum, or Equasis databases. In contrast, Marine Traffic identifies the Valiant as an “aggregates carrier” under IMO number 8744561, with both sources confirming its Sierra Leonean flag.
North Korean vessels have been known to employ flags from other countries to disguise their activities at sea, making the Valiant’s identity even more uncertain. The lack of available ownership data further complicates the situation, as IMO and Equasis records indicate that an “undisclosed interest” acquired the vessel in late 2021.
Manipulating vessel broadcasts, altering ownership records, and creating false identities have long been tactics employed by North Korean smugglers. Yoon In-joo, a research fellow at the Korea Maritime Institute, suggested that the Valiant might have been sold to North Korea and now operates under DPRK colors, a change that hasn’t yet been reflected in maritime databases.
Songnim, where the Valiant was spotted, is a relatively small port city that relies on its main industrial facility, the Hwanghae Iron and Steel Complex.
It also complements Nampho as a trade port dealing with fossil fuels. Yoon explained that if the Valiant was involved in transporting coal from Songnim or supplying oil to North Korea beyond established limits, it would constitute a violation of U.N. Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) 2321 and 2397, respectively. However, she cautioned that such activities might not necessarily breach sanctions if they were intended for domestic consumption within North Korea.
Another expert, Satoru Miyamoto, a professor of international politics at Seigakuin University, suggested that North Korean authorities could be using Songnim not just for procuring energy resources but also as a location for arms shipments. It’s possible that the Sierra Leone-flagged Valiant arrived in Songnim for an arms deal, but specific transaction details remain unclear.
It’s important to note that UNSCR 1718 initially prohibited other countries from procuring heavy conventional weapons, ballistic missiles, and related materials from North Korea. Subsequent resolutions, such as UNSCR 1874 and 2270, extended the arms embargo on the DPRK to include small arms.
The Valiant’s appearance in these sensitive North Korean ports continues to raise questions about its activities and compliance with international sanctions.
Source: NK News