North Korea ship impounded in Philippines as part of fresh sanctions

Story highlights

  • The cargo ship, now in Subic Bay, is one of 31 vessels from one company named in the new U.N. sanctions
  • The vessel will be impounded and its crew will be deported, a Filipino government official says
  • North Korea has been defiant in the face of worldwide condemnation of its developing nuclear, missile programs

(CNN)While North Korea keeps firing literal and figurative salvos, the world has responded with harsher sanctions -- ones that the Philippines has put into effect by detaining a ship from the reclusive East Asian nation.

The Philippine government has impounded a North Korean freighter, the Jin Teng, in Subic Bay and plans to deport its crew, presidential spokesman Manuel Quezon III said in a radio interview, according to the official Philippines News Agency.
    This wouldn't have happened if not for Pyongyang's recent nuclear test and missile launch, and the global community's reaction to these defiant acts.
    The 15-member U.N. Security Council voted this week to impose an array of new sanctions in response to what it called "violation and flagrant disregard" of previous resolutions. Tellingly, this vote was unanimous -- with not only from longtime North Korean foes such as the United States and Japan, but also Russia and China, who have been less adversarial to the regime.
    Among other provisions, Resolution 2270 mandates that other countries "should inspect cargo within or transiting through their territory — including airports, sea ports and free trade zones — that was destined for or originating from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea." It also makes special mention of calling out any "evasion of sanctions" by various parties.
    The Jin Teng is one of 31 vessels operated by Ocean Maritime Management, which is named in the U.N. resolution as being "subject to the asset freeze."
    Documents show that all 21 of the Sierra Leone-flagged ship's crew are North Korean nationals.
    The freighter arrived Thursday in Subic Bay, on the west of the Philippines' main island of Luzon, from Indonesia with a load of palm kernels, according to state news. CNN crews saw its cargo being subsequently unloaded and put onto trucks at the port.
    In addition to the U.N.-related issues, coast guardsmen also found minor safety violations like faulty emergency light bulbs, a lack of fire hoses, corroded air vents and inadequate accommodations for crew, according to Philippines Coast Guard spokesman Armand Balilo.
    A team from the United Nations may also inspect the Jin Teng, according to Quezon. Regardless, the Philippine government will report its findings to that world body.

    Kim talks of readying 'nuclear warheads'

    Such actions -- this ship seizure, specifically, and stronger sanctions, generally -- seemingly have done little to deter North Korea's muscle flexing, bellicose talk and nuclear ambitions.
    Several times this week, in fact, North Korea has continued and, if anything, escalated its threat to potentially deploy a nuclear weapon.
    On Friday, for instance, state news agency KCNA reported that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said his country's "nuclear warheads need to be ready for use at any time."
    "Under the extreme situation that the U.S. Imperialist is misusing its military influence and is pressuring other countries and people to start war and catastrophe, the only way for our people to protect sovereignty and rights to live is to strengthen the quality and quantity of nuclear power and realize the balance of power," Kim said, according to KCNA.
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    This rhetoric came out a day after the news agency reported tests of a new multiple-launch rocket system. This may or may not be referring to a launch of "short-range projectiles" chronicled one day earlier by the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff.
    Pyongyang has long boasted about its nuclear ambitions, about as long as countries like South Korea and the United States have sought to derail them. The issue has only furthered the isolation of North Korea, a communist, closed-off state led for decades by the authoritarian Kim, his late father and his grandfather.
    A chief concern is not only that Pyongyang will develop effective nuclear warheads, but that they'll pair them with missiles that can strike targets around East Asia and perhaps beyond.
    North Korea has even repeatedly threatened to attack the United States, including saying last August that it would do so "with tremendous muscle." A state television report in 2015 mentioned that such strikes could reach the American mainland.
    There are strong doubts North Korea currently has the technology to mate a nuclear warhead to a missile that could travel 5,000 miles and hit the U.S. West Coast. But much is still unknown about Pyongyang's military potential, and there's no disputing its bravado.
    One anti-nuclear advocate thinks a lot of the talk is intended for internal consumption, to help Kim consolidate power, and is not proof of his military's abilities.
    "To me, right now, it's a lot of bluster," said Philip Yun, executive director of the Ploughshares Fund, a group that calls for nuclear disarmament.
    "For them to deliver on a threat, they have to have intent and they have to have capability. And quite frankly, I don't think they have both."