May 9 (Reuters) - In an unusual civil forfeiture action, the Justice Department announced on Thursday it has seized a major cargo vessel belonging to North Korea known as the “Wise Honest,” which officials allege violated U.S. and United Nations sanctions by illicitly shipping coal from North Korea.
The ship, which was first confiscated by other foreign maritime authorities in Indonesia in April 2018, is now in the possession of the United States and is currently approaching U.S. territorial waters, a Justice Department official said.
The 17,061-ton ship, which also was used to deliver heavy machinery to North Korea, is one of the country’s largest bulk carriers, the Justice Department said.
The case marks the first time the United States has seized a North Korean cargo vessel for violating sanctions.
“This sanctions-busting ship is now out of service,” John Demers, the head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, said in a statement.
According to U.N. sanctions monitors, the Wise Honest was transporting 25,500 tons of coal when it was detained by Indonesia in April 2018.
The U.N. report estimated that the value of the ship’s coal cargo was around $3 million. (Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch in Washington and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Susan Thomas)