French customs officials inspect a North Korean ship in a French territory in the Indian Ocean. The search is being done as part of new U.N. sanctions following North Korea's nuclear test last month.
The French search, being carried out in its territory of Mayotte, appears to mark the first time France has inspected a North Korean ship since the new U.N. resolution went into effect.
A French foreign ministry spokesman said France is on heightened alert for ships coming from or heading to North Korea and its inspections would be thorough.
The inspections are part of U.N. measures taken against Pyongyang after it tested a nuclear weapon in October. Since then, France has limited visas for North Koreans and temporarily canceled bilateral contacts.
President Bush has also warned North Korea against transferring nuclear weapons or material to other countries.
But North Korean expert Anton Petrov, of the Institute of Political Studies in Paris, says even finding North Korean ships to inspect will be extremely difficult.
"How can states implement this initiative without actually knowing the routes and intentions of North Korean ships? Shipping companies do not declare their routes," he said. "There is a very big gap in communication between North Korea and the rest of the international community."
The searches can only take place within the territorial waters of participating countries. But Petrov says the most affected countries may not have the political will to act.
"Both South Korea and China are not extremely eager to implement this resolution in terms of searching North Korean naval and other types of cargo," he said. "With China, it is extremely difficult to control because they have almost 1,000 kilometers of border [with North Korea]. And plenty of cross-border trade is going on."
Petrov also says North Korea, to save money, often lends out its fleet to international shipping companies. Those companies often fly foreign flags, and carry cargo from countries besides North Korea. All of this, Petrov says, complicates the inspection process.