In my work on North Korea’s balance of payments, one possibility that I never considered was “renting out the flag to rogue oil tankers.” But that seems to be the story of the Morning Glory seized by US Navy SEALS operating from the guided missile destroyer USS Roosevelt in the Mediterranean Sea off of Cyprus.
The adventure started last week when the Morning Glory itself was seized by rebels operating out of the eastern Libyan port of Es Sider. According the family of the ship’s captain, he had been ordered to sail there by the apparent owner Saud Al Anazi, head of the ZAD Group, based in Dubai, which trades and moves oil around the Gulf. The rebels loaded a quarter million barrels of crude and under Anazi’s orders, set sail for Greece, running a gauntlet of lightly armed fishing vessels, which constituted the Libyan government’s naval forces in the area. Presumably the oil was to be sold to finance a continued insurrection against the government in Tripoli. The episode prompted the parliament to sack the prime minister.
According to the Cypriot government, when the ship was 18 miles off Larnica, the Morning Glory was met by three men who had arrived in the city via Learjet. They were arrested when they returned to port, but released by a Cypriot judge who concluded that whatever they did, they did in international waters, beyond the jurisdiction of the Cypriot legal system. The trio is described as consisting of a Senegalese and two Israelis, with two carrying diplomatic passports, one from Senegal and one from an unnamed central African country. After their release the trio reportedly headed for Tel Aviv.
After the SEALS seized the ship, sailors from the USS Stout boarded the vessel and are returning it to Libya. The rebels accused the US of piracy. Yesterday the UNSC unanimously passed a resolution authorizing sanctions against illegal exports from Libya’s rebel-controlled oil facilities. The resolution, allows the Security Council’s member states to inspect the ships suspected of carrying illegal crude oil from Libya in the international waters.
So how do the North Koreans fit into this? A spokesman for the North Korean Marine Administration stated that "As far as the oil tanker is concerned, it is a ship run by the Golden East Logistics Company in Alexandria, Egypt, and is allowed to temporarily use the DPRK flag for six months in accordance with the contract made by the company with the DPRK at the end of February."
"Right after being informed of the fact by the Libyan side, the DPRK strongly blamed the company side for the violation of the contract and demanded it let the ship leave the port at once without loading oil."
"In addition to it, the DPRK formally notified the Libyan government and the International Maritime Organization that it cancelled and deleted the ship's DPRK registry and invalidated all the certificates as the ship violated the DPRK's law on the registry of ships and the contract that prohibited it from transporting contraband cargo and entering warring, dispute-torn or natural disaster-affected areas.”
The US Department of Defense in its official account describes the vessel as “stateless.”