Philippines impounds North Korean ship

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – Enforcing the United Nations sanctions on North Korea, the Philippines has impounded a North Korean freighter docked at a former US naval base in Zambales, Malacañang announced on Saturday, March 5.

"Our obligation is essentially to impound the vessel and not allow it to leave port," Undersecretary Manuel Quezon III, head of the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office, said in an interview on state-run radio dzRB.

Quezon added that the crew of cargo ship Jin Teng, docked in Subic port in Zambales, "must eventually be deported."

"Alam natin na naabala ang daigdig sa mga nangyayari sa North Korea dahil sa nuclear weapons program nito and pagdedevelop nila ng intercontinental ballistic missiles. Dahil dito, nag-impose ng sanctions ang UN sa pamamagitan ng kanyang Security Council. Bilang bahagi ng UN, meron tayong obligasyon na makiisa sa mga sanctions na ito," Quezon explained.

(We know the the whole world has been affected by what is happening in North Korea because of its nuclear weapons program and its development of intercontinental ballistic missiles. Because of this, the UN, through its Security Council, imposed sanctions. As a member of the UN, we have the obligation to adhere to the sanctions.)

"We also need to send the report to UN on the actions we have taken," he added.

UN team to inspect ship

A team from the UN is expected to inspect the ship in the port, located near a former United States naval base, foreign affairs spokesman Charles Jose said.

Jose told Agence France-Presse (AFP) the ship was impounded "in compliance with the UN resolution" and did not depend on the results of the inspections.

The Jin Teng, carrying palm kernels, was searched for the second time on Saturday, this time using electronic weapons sensors, coastguard spokesman Commander Armand Balilo told AFP, adding the 21 crewmen were "very cooperative."

Balilo said no explosives, drugs or banned substances have been found so far.

There are no other North Korean ships docked in Subic, he added.

North Korea has no embassy in the Philippines. Its embassies in Thailand and Indonesia were unavailable for comment when contacted by AFP.

However, North Korean state media blasted the new round of sanctions again on Saturday, calling the UN resolution a "disgrace".

"It is a disgrace to the world community to allow such high-handed practice of the US and other big powers possessed of many satellites and nuclear warheads," read a statement published by the North's official KCNA news agency.  

"We will resolutely use all means and methods to take powerful, merciless and physical counteractions against the hostile forces' anti-DPRK moves."

Philippine authorities first inspected the cargo ship on Friday,  within hours of the UN ordering cargo checks as part of tough new sanctions over Pyongyang's nuclear program.

The inspection of the 6,830-ton vessel – which arrived in the Philippines from Palembang, Indonesia on Thursday afternoon – came after a UN Security Council resolution was passed on Thursday morning, local time, requiring all countries to inspect cargo going to and from North Korea.

It also banned or restricted exports of coal, iron, iron ore and other minerals from North Korea, and prohibited the supply of aviation fuel, including for rockets. (READ: FAST FACTS: The sweeping new UN sanctions on North Korea)

The Jin Teng is owned and managed by a Hong Kong-based company called Golden Soar Development, according to shipping monitor websites.

The UN resolution was passed on Wednesday night, March 2 in New York – Thursday morning in the Philippines – after North Korea made its fourth nuclear test and rocket launch.

In response, Pyongyang fired six-short-range missiles into the sea on Thursday, while North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un ordered its nuclear arsenal put on standby for preemptive use at anytime.

Kim also warned that the situation on the divided Korean peninsula had become so dangerous that the North needed to shift its military strategy to one of "pre-emptive attack."

Washington downplayed Kim's threat as posturing.

"We have not seen North Korea test or demonstrate the ability to miniaturize a nuclear weapon and put it on an ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile)," a US defense official told AFP.

Still, the official added, "our forces are ready to counter-eliminate strikes if necessary".

On Friday, the European Union also tightened sanctions against North Korea by adding 16 people and 12 entities to a list of some 60 individuals and groups who were hit with travel bans and asset freezes.  with a report from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com