Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose foils North Korean fuel heist while enforcing UN nuclear weapons blockade

A ROYAL Navy warship foiled an illegal fuel transfer while enforcing a United Nations blockade near North Korea.

Thursday, 4th April 2019, 4:20 pm
Updated Saturday, 6th April 2019, 10:07 am
A shot of the North Korean tanker and the unknown ship which had been refuelled in breach of UN sanctions on North Korea: Photo: Royal Navy

The North Korean tanker Saebyol had been attempting to disguise itself as a fishing boat on digital tracking systems.

But the eagle-eyed crew of HMS Montrose spotted the ship in East China Sea alongside another vessel of unknown origin transferring fuel.

The tanker’s action breached strict UN guidelines imposed on North Korea, with sanctions in place to try and stop the secretive nation’s nuclear weapons programme from getting off the ground.

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Gavin Williamson, defence secretary, said the navy’s presence in the region had been a ‘robust deterrence’, and that those breaking the rules were helping to fuel North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

Commander Conor O’Neill, Montrose’s captain, said: ‘Our work here in east Asia is just part of what the Royal Navy does all over the globe on operations which ultimately help keep Britain safe.

‘I am proud of my ship’s company for their hard work gathering evidence of this illegal activity. This is a complex process but we were more than up to the task.’

Montrose was working with the Japanese during the operation. It is the fourth Royal Navy ship to join sanction work after HMS Sutherland, HMS Albion and HMS Argyll.

In May HMS Sutherland observed and reported a Panama-flagged vessel conducting a prohibited ship-to-ship transfer with a North Korean-flagged vessel. This resulted in the Panamanian vessel being designated by the UN, deflagged and banned from port entry.

The latest operation by Montrose took place in the earlier hours of March 2 but was revealed by the Royal Navy today.

Speaking following the news, Mr Williamson added: ‘Sanctions will remain in place and we and our partners will keep enforcing them until we see concrete steps towards North Korea’s complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation.’

Montrose is currently base-ported in Plymouth. However, following a shake-up of where the navy’s fleet will call home, she will soon move to Portsmouth at some point after her current deployment.