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HK-flagged vessel seized in N Korea oil supply row carrying bunker fuel: trade sources

A Hong Kong-flagged vessel seized by South Korea for allegedly supplying oil to North Korea could have been carrying bunker fuel, industry sources said Wednesday.

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It is unlikely the 16,500 dwt Lighthouse Winmore was carrying cargo shipments, they said, adding that it was probably bunker fuel -- either fuel oil or marine gasoil.

South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported late December that South Korean authorities had seized and inspected the Lighthouse Winmore for "secretly" transferring 600 mt, or close to 4,000 barrels, of oil to a North Korean vessel in international waters via a ship-to-ship transfer.

STS transfers of any goods or items to or from North Korean-flagged vessels are prohibited under sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council.

Yonhap cited South Korean officials as saying that the Lighthouse Winmore was chartered by Taiwanese company Billions Bunker Group and loaded oil at South Korea's Yeosu port on October 11, then headed to international waters in the East China Sea where it allegedly carried out STS transfers to a North Korean ship, the Sam Jong 2, as well as three other non-North Korean vessels.

As investigations continued over the following days, a spokesman for the South Korean foreign ministry during a briefing on Tuesday named global oil trading house Trafigura as the owner of the original oil shipment, which was supposedly later transferred by the Lighthouse Winmore to the Sam Jong 2.

A Trafigura spokeswoman Wednesday said the company was not involved in any transfer of oil to North Korea, saying that the "Lighthouse Winmore is neither owned nor has it been chartered by Trafigura."

"Moreover, Trafigura did not 'order the shipment of oil' to North Korea. This cargo was sold by Trafigura on an FOB basis in South Korea to a Hong Kong -based company, Global Commodities Consultants Limited, and the stated destination for the cargo was Taiwan. The contractual terms for the sale by Trafigura prohibited the on-sale of the cargo in breach of sanctions. Trafigura conducts its business so as to comply with applicable sanctions and has had no involvement in the final destination of this cargo," the Trafigura spokeswoman said.

The Lighthouse Winmore has been in Yeosu, South Korea, since November 23 2017, according to cFlow, S&P Global Platts' ship tracking software.

The vessel, which was detained by South Korea over November 24-December 4, 2017, is owned by Lighthouse Ship Management, data from the Asia-Pacific Port State Control showed Wednesday.

Prior to this, the vessel had called at Taichung, Taiwan, on November 6, 2017, and had been sailing in and out of Yeosu from September 7 to October 28, 2017, cFlow showed.

cFlow also showed that the vessel had left Yeosu on October 15, and sailed into international waters before returning to Yeosu on October 25.

It was during this period that the vessel was suspected to have made the STS transfer.

--Clarice Chiam,
--Wanda Wang,
--Goh Shu Hui,
--Edited by Geetha Narayanasamy,