Photographs taken by a Japanese spy plane show a North Korean tanker likely violating UN sanctions, Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Wednesday.
The images, taken Saturday, show the Rye Song Gang 1 appearing in the dark of night beside a Dominican-flagged ship, the Yuk Tung. The two ships then are seen sailing away from each other after the sun rises on Saturday morning.
Rye Song Gang is one of eight ships banned from ports
Ship was previously caught allegedly violating sanctions
"The (Japanese) government strongly suspect the two engaged offshore delivery which was banned by UN Security Council resolutions," the ministry said in a statement.
It's not the first time that the the Rye Song Gang 1 has been accused of engaging in illicit ship-to-ship transfers. The US Treasury Department released images of the ship allegedly conducting a transfer on October 19. It did not name the other ship involved, but the South Korean Foreign Ministry said it seized a Hong Kong-registered vessel, the Lighthouse Winmore, for transferring refined oil to a North Korean ship that same day.
The Rye Song Gang was among eight ships banned from entering ports from across the globe in late December for violating UN sanctions on North Korea.
Since September, after Pyongyang conducted a sixth nuclear test, UN member states have been banned facilitating or engaging in ship-to-ship transfers with North Korean-flagged vessels.
When asked for comment about the latest allegation, Hugh Griffiths, the coordinator of the UN Panel of Experts on North Korea -- the body charged with monitoring sanctions enforcement and efficacy -- told CNN "this matter is already in under investigation, but it will be featuring in an upcoming report to the Security Council at the end of this month."
A series of increasingly strict resolutions were passed at the UN Security Council against Pyongyang in 2017, in response to the rogue regime's repeated weapons tests.
The measures, passed after intense lobbying by Washington, targeted energy, money transfers and shipping.
The Trump administration is waging what it calls a campaign of "peaceful pressure" on the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. It hopes that, as the international community ramps up sanctions and the diplomatic isolation on North Korea, Pyongyang will be squeezed hard enough that it will eventually put its nuclear weapons on the negotiating table in exchange for relief from sanctions.
North Korea has for years used deceptive shipping practices to bring in money and goods for the regime. But its fleet has come under increased scrutiny as the United States has looked for new ways to punish the Kim regime.
The issue of ship-to-ship transfers was brought up several times at a summit on North Korea in Vancouver earlier this month. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that more was needed to be done on the issue of maritime interdiction operations when it comes to stopping sanctions violations.
"We must put an end to illicit ship-to-ship transfers that undermine UN sanctions," he said.
After the first set of pictures surfaced in South Korea media, US President Donald Trump said Beijing had been "caught red-handed" for violating UN measures on North Korea.
China has consistently denied breaching sanctions.