Kingsway, pictured here under previous ownership. Credit: Joachim Affeldt
The bunker trading arm of a Taiwanese fishery has now been linked to two vessels that have been reports as having transacted with North Korea.
The Marshall Islands-registered Billions Bunker Corp and an affiliate, Bunker’s Taiwan Group Corp, which is registered in the British Virgin Islands, have been respectively linked to the tankers Lighthouse Winmore and Kingsway.
The two companies are understood to operate from the Kaohsiung office of Taiwanese fishery Ying Cai Marine Enterprise, with the functions of procuring marine fuels for the latter’s fishing vessels.
Media reports stated that Billions Bunker Corp was the charterer of the Panama-flagged Lighthouse Winmore, a 2014-built 16,500 dwt chemical/products tanker which was detained by authorities in the South Korean port of Yeosu on 24 November 2017.
Vessel-tracking data from IHS Markit's Maritime Portal showed that Lighthouse Winmore entered Kaohsiung on 1 September 2017 and from there, sailed to Yeosu, hovering around the latter and its twin port, Gwangyang, for most of September. After 24 September 2017, no further movements were detected, until 1 October 2017, when Lighthouse Winmore entered Yeosu again.
On 27 October 2017, Lighthouse Winmore departed Gwangyang for Luhuashan, China, arriving on 1 November 2017. The tanker left for Taiwan, arriving in Taichung on 4 November 2017. Lighthouse Winmore then re-entered Yeosu on 23 November 2017.
The tanker was initially detained for an unknown number of days, after 24 defects relating to its emergency generators and lifesaving appliances, among others, were found during Port State Control inspections.
However, South Korean authorities said that the vessel entered Yeosu on 11 October 2017 to collect oil products sold by a Japanese refinery, before allegedly transferring the cargoes to four North Korean vessels, including one named Sam Jong 2. Lighthouse Winmore had claimed it would be sailing to Taiwan from Yeosu.
With regard to Bunker’s Taiwan Group Corp, this company was the owner of Billions No. 18, 1998-built 9,224 dwt chemical/products tanker that was, on 21 December 2017, added to the UN Security Council’s list of vessels banned from port entry in United Nations member countries for transporting prohibited goods to North Korea.
IHS Markit’s Maritime Portal shows that during the same month, Billions No. 18 was sold to Fairwind Navigation, a Belize-incorporated company that also operates from Kaohsiung, and renamed Kingsway. Vessel-tracking data shows that from May 2017 to November 2017, the vessel hovered around the twin South Korean ports of Yeosu and Gwangyang, and in November 2017, the tanker sailed to Taiwan where it has been ever since.
Fairplay’s attempts to contact Billions Bunker Corp, Bunker’s Taiwan Group Corp and Fairwind Navigation for comment were unsuccessful as phone calls to Ying Cai’s office went unanswered.
While media reports said that Billions No. 18 was Palau-flagged, the Palau registry issued a statement on 3 January 2018 to deny links with the vessel.
The statement said: “It has been wrongfully stated that the said vessel was Palau-registered when it was reported for violating North Korea sanctions. During the alleged period, the said vessel was not operating under the Palau flag and only provisionally registered as part of the Palau International Ship Registery fleet on 8 December 2017 while the vessel was in Taiwan, and until today, the vessel hasn’t left Taiwanese waters.”
The statement asserted that the vessel was flagged under the Palau registry only after it was renamed Kingsway.
Meanwhile, the Panama registry is moving to cancel the registration of two vessels that have been linked to trades with North Korea. The ships are the Orient Shenyu and Koti, an 8,100 dwt products tanker that has been detained in the South Korean port of Pyeongtaek-Dangjin.