World News

North Korea requests oil to refuel ship carrying Olympic delegation

Posted February 6, 2018 10:02 p.m. EST

— North Korea has requested extra oil to help refuel a ship carrying members of its Olympic delegation, Seoul's Unification Ministry said Wednesday.

The ship, the Mangyongbong 92, arrived at South Korea's Mukho port on Tuesday afternoon, carrying 114 members of the country's art troupe, alongside 96 crew members.

The request for oil and other supplies, including generators, was submitted to the South after the ship docked, South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun said during a daily press briefing.

The ship is also intended to act as accommodation for the troupe during their time in the South.

It is not immediately known how much oil was requested or whether fulfillment of the request would be in breach of a UN resolution passed last year intended to limit the import of refined petroleum to North Korea.

The South are reviewing the request and have yet to formerly respond, said Tae-hyunw, who added that any assistance provided to the ship will be carried out in consultation with the international community.

"We will also ensure that the United Nations resolutions and ship-related US sanctions are not in conflict," said Tae-hyun.

Sanctions busting

Seoul had earlier granted the ship a temporary exemption from an existing South Korean measure prohibiting North Korean vessels from entering and operating in South Korean waters or ports.

Speaking to CNN, John Delury, Professor of International Studies at Yonsei University, said that it was important to keep the request in context.

"International sanctions are designed to cut off resources to the North's nuclear missile program, not to prevent it from sending a peace party to the South (during the Games)," said Delury.

Sanctions passed by the UN in December last year cut exports of gasoline, diesel and other refined oil products to North Korea by a total of 89%. It also banned the export of industrial equipment, machinery, transportation vehicles and industrial metals to North Korea, and required countries currently hosting North Korean migrant workers to repatriate them within 24 months.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, previously told CNN the sanctions were intended to strangle North Korea's energy supplies and tighten restrictions on smuggling.

Writing on Twitter, Euan Graham, international security director at Australia's Lowy Institute, described the North's request fuel as a "Classic tactic."

"North Korea trying to tempt South Korea over the sanctions line. Seoul should resist this one. If Mangyongbong 92 doesn't have fuel for the return trip, let it stay a while longer. See how that goes down."

North Korea's participation in the Olympics has become the biggest story from an already ultra-politicized games, sparking frustration in South Korea that the country is being forgotten in what should be its international moment, particularly after officials decided to merge the North and South Korean women's hockey teams and march under a unified flag in the Opening Ceremony.

A total of 22 North Korean athletes will compete in ice hockey, figure skating, short track speedskating, cross-country skiing and alpine skiing in Pyeongchang.