Russia is reportedly going around sanctions and supplying North Korea with fuel

A general view shows a commercial port in Vladivostok, Russia, July 27, 2014. REUTERS/Yuri Maltsev

At least eight North Korean ships that left Russia with a cargo of fuel this year headed for their homeland despite declaring other destinations, a ploy that US officials say is often used to undermine sanctions.on.

The eight vessels identified in the tracking data set sailed from the far eastern Russian port of Vladivostok or nearby Nakhodka and registered China or South Korea as their destination with the Information System for State Port Control.

After leaving Russia, they were next recorded off the North Korean ports of Kimchaek, Chongjin, Hungnam, or Najin. None went on to China, and most went back to Russia.

All had a cargo of diesel, a source at the company that services vessels in Vladivostok said. Their cargo capacity ranged from 500 tonnes to 2,000 tonnes.

One of the vessels was the Ma Du San, owned by North Korea’s Korea Kyongun Shipping Co. It took on a cargo of 545 tonnes of marine fuel at Vladivostok’s Pervaya Rechka terminal, owned by Russia’s Independent Petroleum Company.

Reuters obtained a bill of lading — a receipt for goods issued when a ship loads up — dated May 19 showing the Ma Du San’s cargo came from Khabarovskiy NPZ, a refinery owned by IPC.

The ship set sail on May 20. Documents filed with Russia’s ISSPC stated its next destination as the Chinese port of Zhanjiang, and the bill of lading showed it as Busan in South Korea.

The Ma Du San’s next recorded location after Vladivostok was inside the perimeter of the port of Kimchaek — all the other ships were tracked only in the vicinity of ports. North Korean ships intermittently turn off their transponders, and satellites cannot track them at such times, US officials say.

Allegations outlined in two US Treasury Department sanctions orders and a legal complaint filed by the US government match the information Reuters obtained on the Ma Du San, though the US documents do not name the vessel involved.

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