Geoffrey Berman, the USA attorney for the southern district of NY, said the Wise Honest seizure was the "first-ever seizure" of a North Korean cargo ship alleged to have violated worldwide sanctions.
The DoJ has asked a federal judge to transfer ownership of the 17,000-ton Wise Honest - North Korea's second-largest bulk cargo ship - to the USA through civil forfeiture, a controversial legal process that allows authorities to take possession of vehicles and other property involved in felonies like drug smuggling. On Thursday, the Justice Department asked a federal judge to give the US ownership of the vessel through a civil forfeiture action.
The move on May 9 is the first time a North Korean cargo vessel was seized for violating sanctions, said Demers.
The Justice Department announced the seizure Thursday of the Wise Honest.
"This sanctions-busting ship is now out of service", said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers.
North Korea on Thursday fired two short-range missiles into the sea in the second such weapons launch in less than a week, according to Seoul and Washington. The ship, in what USA officials say was a clear act of concealment, also turned off an automatic signal system meant to alert other ships of its course and location.
The complaint was filed in US District Court in Manhattan on Thursday by the US attorney's office for the Southern District of NY.
Iran suspends parts of nuclear deal
He said that Iran was simply seeking to "save face" after "striking a deal which was not respected by the other side". The US also has ended waivers for nations buying Iranian crude oil, a key source of revenue for Iran's government.
A March report by the United Nations said that ship-to-ship transfers were rendering sanctions against North Korea ineffective, allowing the country to import oil and export coal above the allowed limits.
Three American banks helped to facilitate US dollar payments for maintenance and equipment for the ship, but Justice officials said the banks did so unwittingly. He was speaking of the February meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and American President Donald Trump.
A satellite photograph from March 2018 included as evidence in the complaint shows a ship that appears to be the Wise Honest tied alongside a dock in North Korea with "large quantities of what appears to be coal piled alongside the dock and in warehouses adjacent to it".
Indonesia said in a letter published by the United Nations that it had noticed the ship's "automatic identification system" was turned off, which could help it avoid detection. The complaint says that after taking the load of coal, the ship sailed south with it toward Indonesia. The ship's signal had been turned off since August 2017.
But the summit in Vietnam broke up without an agreement rolling back Pyongyang's nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief or even a joint statement, leaving the North frustrated. According to a recent report from the U.N. Security Council, the proceeds help finance North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
As part of a scheme to mask the Wise Honest's country of origin, the Songi company allegedly "falsely" listed other countries on shipping documents.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives before a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the proposed budget estimates and justification for FY2020 for the State Department on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 9, 2019.