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Russian oil tankers supplying fuel to North Korea via transfers at sea

Russian oil tankers have been supplying fuel to North Korea on at least three occasions in recent months by transferring cargoes at sea as claimed.
The sales of oil products from Russia, the world's second biggest oil exporter and a veto-wielding member of the United Nations Security Council, breach UN sanctions, the security sources said.

The transfers in October and November indicate that smuggling from Russia to North Korea has evolved to loading and unloading cargoes at sea.

"Although there is no evidence that this is backed by the Russian state but these Russian vessels are giving a lifeline to the North Koreans," an  European security source said.

The two security sources cited naval intelligence and satellite imagery of the vessels operating out of Russian Far Eastern ports on the Pacific but declined to disclose further details, saying it was classified.

The security sources said the Russian-flagged tanker Vityaz was one vessel that had transferred fuel to North Korean vessels.

The owner of the Russian vessel denied any contact with North Korean vessels but also said it was unaware that the vessel was fuelling fishing boats.

Yaroslav Guk, deputy director of the tanker's owner, Vladivostok-based Alisa Ltd, said the vessel had no contacts with any North Korean vessels.

In September, Reuters reported that at least eight North Korean ships that left Russia loaded with fuel this year headed for their homeland despite declaring other destinations, a ploy that US officials say is often used to undermine sanctions.

A second source, who independently confirmed the existence of the Russian ship-to-ship fuel trade with North Korea, said there was no evidence of Russian state involvement in the latest transfers.

Russia's Foreign Ministry and the Russian Customs Service both declined to comment when asked on Wednesday if Russian ships had supplied fuel to North Korean vessels.
The owner of one ship accused of smuggling oil to North Korea denied any such activity.
The latest report came as China, responding on Friday to criticism from Donald Trump, denied it had illicitly shipped oil products to North Korea of which they really relies on imported fuel to keep its struggling economy functioning.
It also requires oil for its intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear programme that the United States says threatens the peace in Asia.

Ship satellite positioning data consulted by Reuters and available on Reuters Eikon shows unusual movements by some of the Russian vessels named by the security sources including switching off the transponders which give a precise location.

The Vityaz left the port of Slavyanka near Vladivostok in Russia on Oct. 15 with 1,600 tonnes of oil, according to Russian port control documents. The submitted documents by the vessel's agent to the Russian State Port Control authority showed its destination to a fishing fleet in the Japan Sea.
According to the European security sources, the Vityaz conducted a ship-to-ship transfer with the North Korean Flagged Sam Ma 2 tanker in open seas during October.

Two other Russian flagged oil tankers made similar journeys between the middle of October and November, leaving from the ports of Slavyanka and Nakhodka into open seas where they switched off their transponders, shipping data showed.
A Russian shipping source with knowledge of Far Eastern marine practices said North Korean vessels had stopped loading fuel in Russia's Far Eastern ports but instead delivered at sea by tankers using ship-to-ship transfers, or even by fishing vessels.

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