June 13th, 2011
03:53 PM ET

U.S. tracks North Korean ship suspected of carrying illicit cargo

The U.S. Navy tried to get permission to board a North Korean merchant vessel two weeks ago in the South China Sea that it suspected was carrying illicit weapons cargo, but when it was denied permission the U.S. shadowed the ship until it returned to North Korea, the Pentagon confirmed Monday.

The merchant ship M/V Light is registered and flagged under Belize but was believed to be manned by a North Korean crew according to Colonel David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman.

According to Lapan, on May 26, the merchant vessel was hailed by the USS McCampbell which requested permission to board the ship and inspect its cargo. The ship’s master denied the request, telling the Navy ship that they were a North Korean ship, according to the Pentagon.

Lapan said the vessel was in violation of international law in refusing the boarding. It was believed the ship might be heading to Myanmar. There are several UN resolutions that permit the boarding of ships suspected of carrying banned weapons cargo such as ballistic missile parts or technology.

The McCampbell maintained surveillance of the vessel for several days. On May 29 the vessel turned around and headed back to North Korean port. The U.S. maintained surveillance of the ship until it returned. Lapan would not specify how that surveillance is maintained but the Navy is known to use surveillance aircraft at sea, and U.S. intelligence satellites regularly monitor North Korean ports.

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