North Korea tanker row: Vessel with Maldives flag spotted in satellite

Maps on the websites show the exact location of the tanker, whose name XIN HUAN also reveals just how tight a stranglehold President Yameen's close ally, China, has on the Indian Ocean island-state. Photograph:( WION )

WION Web Team New Delhi, Delhi, India Feb 28, 2018, 02.46 PM (IST) Padma Rao Sundarji

Minutes after President Abdalla Yameen’s dictatorial government fiercely denied Japan's charges that a tanker registered in the Maldives was one of the four ships that have defied international sanctions and transferred illegal goods to North Korean vessels, WION found the vessel in question on several websites that track mercantile shipping around the earth. 

The Xin Huan 18 is listed as a tanker, it is very much registered in the Maldives, it flies the Maldivian flag and - was last spotted via satellite in the China seas. 

Maps on the websites show the exact location of the tanker, whose name XIN HUAN also reveals just how tight a stranglehold President Yameen's close ally, China, has on the Indian Ocean island-state.

Japan's government had earlier released photographs of the Xin Huan 18 anchored alongside a North Korean tanker last weekend. 

According to the Nikkei Asian Review, the vehicle was flying the flag of the Maldives and may have been transferring fuel. 

The photograph was taken from an aircraft belonging Japan's maritime Self-Defence Force and Coast Guard just days ago. The illegal at-sea transfer is the fourth instance of foreign vessels transferring goods to North Korean ships.

President Yameen lost no time in issuing a press release in the name of the "Government of the Republic of Maldives":

“The government of the Maldives in no uncertain terms, refutes the assumption that a vessel named Xin Yuan 18 is of Maldivian origin – no such vehicle is registered in the country. Further, we condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the use of our national flag in a manner so as to tarnish the good standing and reputation of our nation and that of our people.”

But WION found the vessel on several shipping websites which use satellites to track mercantile shipping.  

Xin Yuan 18’s dimensions are 77 M x 23 M, its status is “active” and as on February 8, 2018 on one website, its last registered position at 11.06 UTC (coordinated universal time) was in the South China Sea. 

The Xin Yuan 18 was clipping along at a speed of 9.8 knots and was at 280 degrees.

So far, Japan has been the only country to patrol the waters of the Yellow Sea between China and the Korean peninsula and the neighbouring East China Sea.  

Tokyo is now seeking help from other nations to keep North Korea's maritime smuggling in check. There are global sanctions against North Korea which prohibit the transfer of goods to Pyongyang. So far, the illegal transfers have been of crude oil or refined petroleum products.

The Maldives is currently in the iron-fisted stranglehold of dictatorial President Abdulla Yameen. He has sacked and arrested the judiciary and opposition and consolidated all powers within his own office. President Yameen is also accused of selling entire atolls of his island-nation to both Saudi Arabia and China.

Under his rule, the Maldives has become a quasi-protectorate of China, of whose Belt-and-Road-Initiative, the Maldives is a part.

Meanwhile, exiled former president Mohammed Nasheed disclosed via Twitter that international smuggling operations to regimes under sanction are nothing new under Mr Yameen.

“It's concerning but unsurprising to learn (sic) Prez Yameen is again breaking UN sanctions,” read the tweet. “He’s getting Maldives flagged ships to transfer cargo to North Korean ships on the high seas. In the 1990s, President Yameen did the same with the Burmese junta.”

Mr Nasheed, who was democratically elected but ousted by Mr Yameen, is referring to allegations of corruption faced by Mr Yameen back in the early 2000s.  

Mr Yameen was then reportedly with a state-owned company which sold nearly $300 million worth of oil to Myanmar's military dictatorship which was then also under international sanctions. Mr Nasheed later alleged that nearly half the money from that sale had disappeared without a trace.

Story highlights

According to the Nikkei Asian Review, the vehicle was flying the flag of the Maldives and may have been transferring fuel. ||President Yameen lost no time in issuing a press release in the name of the "Government of the Republic of Maldives" ||