UNITED NATIONS - The U.N. Security Council on Friday blacklisted 27 ships, 21 companies and a businessman for helping North Korea circumvent sanctions, keeping the pressure on Pyongyang despite its recent diplomatic opening to talks, a diplomat said.
Acting on a request from the United States, a council committee approved the largest-ever package of sanctions designations on North Korea, the council diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
The move is part of a global crackdown on the smuggling of North Korean commodities in violation of U.N. sanctions resolutions, which were adopted in response to Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic missile tests.
Thirteen North Korean oil tankers and cargo vessels were banned from ports worldwide, along with 12 other ships for helping Pyongyang smuggle banned commodities or supplying oil and fuel shipments, according to a U.N. document obtained by AFP.
Two other North Korean vessels were hit with a global assets freeze but were not banned from port entry.
Twenty-one shipping and trading firms were hit by an assets freeze. Three of them are based in Hong Kong, including Huaxin Shipping, which delivered shipments of North Korean coal to Vietnam in October.
12 North Korean firms hit
Twelve North Korean firms were blacklisted for running ships involved in illegal transfers of oil and fuel, according to the document.
Two other companies — Shanghai Dongfeng Shipping and Weihai World Shipping Freight, also based in China — were blacklisted for carrying North Korean coal on their vessels.
The remaining firms are in based Singapore, Samoa, the Marshall Islands and Panama.
A businessman identified as Tsang Yung Yuan was hit by a global travel ban and assets freeze for organizing illegal shipments of North Korean coal with a North Korean broker in Russia.
The sanctions were approved as the United States moves to open talks with North Korea on its nuclear drive, with a possible summit meeting between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un to be held by the end of May.
Despite the diplomatic opening, the United States have made clear they will keep the pressure on Pyongyang to shift course by pressing on with sanctions.
Last year, the Security Council adopted a series of resolutions to ban North Korean exports of commodities in a bid to cut off revenue to the nation's military programs.
The measures severely restrict deliveries of oil and refined petroleum products to North Korea, but sanctions monitors have reported that Pyongyang has used vessels to dodge those restrictions.
North Korea earned $200 million last year from exports of coal, iron, steel and other banned commodities, according to a recent report.
Only eight North Korean vessels had so far been banned from ports for sanctions-busting, so the inclusion of 13 other ships Friday was expected to significantly cripple North Korea's maritime network.
The United States had initially asked the United Nations to ban 33 ships and 27 firms over smuggling, but China put a hold on that request to review the list.
Earlier this month, the White House said Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping agreed in a phone conversation to keep up the sanctions pressure on North Korea until Pyongyang takes concrete steps toward denuclearization.