Dar es Salaam — Tanzania is on the spot again over international sanctions after an investigation found out that about 50 vessels owned by--or linked to--North Korea, have been using the country's flag since March this year in what could constitute a breach of a key UN resolution.
An investigation carried out by Mr Leo Byrne, the Data and Analytic Director at NK News based in Seoul, South Korea, has shown that around 15 per cent of North Korean ships in the NK Pro vessel tracker now sail under the Tanzanian flag, with the large majority of changes happening over a three-month period.
The data was taken from Marine Traffic, the Equasis maritime database, and inspection records from Port State Control (PSC) authorities and it is then fed on the NK Pro vessel tracker show an unprecedented campaign to reflag vessels with links to the DPRK, dwarfing previous flurries of changes that occurred after the UN and US designated a North Korean shipping company in 2014.
This is not the first time for Tanzanian flag to be used by vessels targeted by UN sanctions. Iranian ships caused a considerable diplomatic embarrassment for Tanzania in 2013 after the US embassy protested the continued use of the Tanzanian flag by Iranian vessels even after the country gave assurances that it would deflag the ships.
And yesterday, the minister for Foreign Affairs and East African Community, Dr Augustine Mahiga, blamed the repeat of the problem on a "notorious", Dubai-based agent.
"This is not the first time we get into trouble over having countries sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council flying our flag. We earlier had the same problem with Iranian ships," Dr Mahiga told The Citizen yesterday.
He noted that the government is categorically opposed to allowing UN sanctioned countries from flying our flag but the problem is a notorious agent in Dubai who has been violating Tanzania government's directive to that effect.
"Since I am just learning it from you now while I am at the airport and about to travel abroad, I will pass the information to colleagues at the Foreign Affairs ministry to establish on the truth of the matter as diplomatic procedures follow," says the Foreign minister.
He added that upon establishing the truth, his ministry officials would engage the North Korean Dar es Salaam embassy for further steps.
"Diplomatically, we can't rush to act on unverified issues. But, in general, our international shipping registration agents have been categorically warned against permitting countries sanctioned by the UN to fly our flag because by so doing, the country would be deemed to have violated membership sections of the UN," Dr Mahiga said.
Mr Byrne further says that his investigations show that the Tanzanian foreign vessels registry includes North Korea's mentioned by the UN Panel of Experts (PoE) and one ship sanctioned by the US Department of Treasury.
"Other Tanzanian-flagged ships belong to companies recently struck off by another shipping registry and many others are frequently seen near DPRK waters," Mr Byrne says in his analysis.
If an independent verification finds the North Korean vessels are truly using the Tanzanian flag, the country's international vessels registry could be considered guilty of violating a key UN resolution.
Para 19 of Resolution 2270 passed in March this year calls on member states to de-register any vessel that is owned, operated or crewed by the DPRK. It further calls upon member states not to register any such vessel that is de-registered by another member state.
North Korea vessels have long been using foreign flags to hide the origins of its vessels, according to Byrne. But following the latest, harsh UN sanctions, many foreign vessels registries seem to have been avoiding the pariah state.
The majority of the vessels appear to have transferred their details to the Tanzanian registry, which accepted nearly all the ships between June and August this year. A number of other vessels also appeared to come clean and register in North Korea.
Tanzania has been using agents to register foreign firms. The "notorious" Dubai-based agent mentioned by the Dr Mahiga has reportedly been blacklisted by Tanzania.
The maritime intelligence firm, Lloyd's List, reported in 2014 that Tanzania had announced that it has terminated its ship registration contract with the United Arab Emirates-based Philtex two years after the agency was accused of registering Iranian vessels under the Tanzanian flag illegally.