Russian tankers fueled North Korea via transfers at sea: sources

LONDON/MOSCOW, Dec 29 - Russian tankers have supplied fuel to North Korea on at least three occasions in recent months by transferring cargoes at sea, according to two senior Western European security sources, providing an economic lifeline to the secretive Communist state.

The sales of oil or oil products from Russia, the world's second biggest oil exporter and a veto-wielding member of the United Nations Security Council, breach U.N. sanctions, the security sources said.

The transfers in October and November indicate that smuggling from Russia to North Korea has evolved to loading cargoes at sea since Reuters reported in September that North Korean ships were sailing directly from Russia to their homeland.

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Every missile launch conducted by North Korea in 2017
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Every missile launch conducted by North Korea in 2017
This photo taken on February 12, 2017 and released on February 13 by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows the launch of a surface-to-surface medium long-range ballistic missile Pukguksong-2 at an undisclosed location. North Korea said on February 13 it had successfully tested a new ballistic missile, triggering a US-led call for an urgent UN Security Council meeting after a launch seen as a challenge to President Donald Trump. / AFP PHOTO / KCNA via KNS / STR / South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT ---EDITORS NOTE--- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS / THIS PICTURE WAS MADE AVAILABLE BY A THIRD PARTY. AFP CAN NOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, LOCATION, DATE AND CONTENT OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PHOTO IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY AFP. / (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - This undated picture released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) via KNS on March 7, 2017 shows the launch of four ballistic missiles by the Korean People's Army (KPA) during a military drill at an undisclosed location in North Korea. Nuclear-armed North Korea launched four ballistic missiles on March 6 in another challenge to President Donald Trump, with three landing provocatively close to America's ally Japan. / AFP PHOTO / KCNA VIA KNS / STR / South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT ---EDITORS NOTE--- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS THIS PICTURE WAS MADE AVAILABLE BY A THIRD PARTY. AFP CAN NOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, LOCATION, DATE AND CONTENT OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PHOTO IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY AFP. / (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - A man walks past a television screen showing file footage of a North Korean missile launch, at a railway station in Seoul on March 22, 2017. A new North Korean missile test failed on March 22, the South and US said, two weeks after Pyongyang launched four rockets in what it called a drill for an attack on American bases in Japan. / AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
A man walks past a television screen showing file footage of a North Korean missile launch, at a railway station in Seoul on April 5, 2017. Nuclear-armed North Korea fired a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan on April 5, just ahead of a highly-anticipated China-US summit at which Pyongyangs accelerating atomic weapons programme is set to top the agenda. / AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
A North Korean navy truck carries the 'Pukkuksong' submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father, Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, April 15, 2017. North Korea has escalated tests of its SLBM programme in the last year. Whilst the isolated country is not yet believed to have an operational submarine capable of carrying more than one missile at the time, its enemies are worried that a fully-functional SLBM would make tracking and intercepting a North Korean missile launch and the submarine from which it was fired very difficult. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY SEARCH "PARADE WID" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
This picture taken on May 14, 2017 and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15 shows a test launch of the ground-to-ground medium long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 at an undisclosed location. / AFP PHOTO / KCNA VIA KNS / STR / South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT ---EDITORS NOTE--- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS THIS PICTURE WAS MADE AVAILABLE BY A THIRD PARTY. AFP CAN NOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, LOCATION, DATE AND CONTENT OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PHOTO IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY AFP. / (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
FILE PHOTO - The scene of the intermediate-range ballistic missile Pukguksong-2's launch test in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) May 22, 2017. KCNA/via REUTERS/File photo ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT.
People watch a television broadcasting a news report on North Korea firing what appeared to be a short-range ballistic missile, at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, May 29, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - JUNE 08: People watch a television broadcast reporting the North Korean missile launch at the Seoul Railway Station on June 8, 2017 in Seoul, South Korea. According to the South Korean military, North Korea launched several cruise missiles from the east coast toward the ocean on June 8, 2017 in its fourth missile test in four weeks. The launch came amid the international tension surrounding the policy on North Korea, as a day before the newly elected South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, announced the suspension of the deployment of an controversial American missile defence system, and less than a week before the United Nations Security Council expanded the sanctions against North Korea. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
This picture taken and released on July 4, 2017 by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows the test-fire of the intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-14 at an undisclosed location. North Korea declared on July 4 it had successfully tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile -- a watershed moment in its push to develop a nuclear weapon capable of hitting the mainland United States. / AFP PHOTO / KCNA VIA KNS / STR / South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT ---EDITORS NOTE--- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS THIS PICTURE WAS MADE AVAILABLE BY A THIRD PARTY. AFP CAN NOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, LOCATION, DATE AND CONTENT OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PHOTO IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY AFP. / (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
A photo taken on July 6, 2017 shows a mass dance event as part of celebrations marking the July 4 launch of the Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile, in Pyongyang. Fireworks lit up the sky over Pyongyang's Juche Tower as North Korea celebrated its launch of intercontinental ballistic missile, a milestone in its decades-long weapons drive. On July 4 -- the United States' Independence Day -- it launched a Hwasong-14 rocket that analysts and overseas officials said had a range of up to 8,000 kilometres, which would put Alaska and Hawaii within reach. / AFP PHOTO / KIM Won-Jin (Photo credit should read KIM WON-JIN/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - This July 28, 2017 picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 29, 2017 shows North Korea's intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), Hwasong-14 being lauched at an undisclosed place in North Korea. Kim Jong-Un boasted of North Korea's ability to strike any target in the US after a second ICBM test that weapons experts said could even bring New York into range - in a potent challenge to US President Donald Trump. / AFP PHOTO / KCNA VIS KNS / STR / South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT ---EDITORS NOTE--- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS THIS PICTURE WAS MADE AVAILABLE BY A THIRD PARTY. AFP CAN NOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, LOCATION, DATE AND CONTENT OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PHOTO IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY AFP. TO GO WITH NKorea-nucelar-missile-Japan-SKorea-politics, FOCUS by Shingo Ito and Park Chan-Kyong / (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - AUGUST 26: People watch a television broadcast reporting the North Korean missile launch at the Seoul Railway Station on August 26, 2017 in Seoul, South Korea. North Korea launched several ballistic missiles into the East Sea resuming a provocative act in a month despite Washington's diplomacy-first approach toward the belligerent regime. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - This picture from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) taken on August 29, 2017 and released on August 30, 2017 shows North Korea's intermediate-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 lifting off from the launching pad at an undisclosed location near Pyongyang. Nuclear-armed North Korea said on August 30 that it had fired a missile over Japan the previous day, the first time it has ever acknowledged doing so. / AFP PHOTO / KCNA VIA KNS / STR / South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT ---EDITORS NOTE--- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS THIS PICTURE WAS MADE AVAILABLE BY A THIRD PARTY. AFP CAN NOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, LOCATION, DATE AND CONTENT OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PHOTO IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY AFP. / The erroneous mention[s] appearing in the metadata of this photo by STR has been modified in AFP systems in the following manner: [at an undisclosed location near Pyongyang] instead of [in Pyongyang]. Please immediately remove the erroneous mention[s] from all your online services and delete it (them) from your servers. If you have been authorized by AFP to distribute it (them) to third parties, please ensure that the same actions are carried out by them. Failure to promptly comply with these instructions will entail liability on your part for any continued or post notification usage. Therefore we thank you very much for all your attention and prompt action. We are sorry for the inconvenience this notification may cause and remain at your disposal for any further information you may require. (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - SEPTEMBER 15: People watch a television broadcast reporting the North Korean missile launch at the Seoul Railway Station on September 15, 2017 in Seoul, South Korea. North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Japan just days after the U.N. Security Council adopted new sanctions against the regime over its sixth nuclear test on Sept. 3. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
People watch a television screen showing a file video footage of North Korea's missile launch, at a railway station in Seoul on November 29, 2017. North Korea test fired what appeared to be an intercontinental ballistic missile on November 29, in a major challenge to US President Donald Trump after he slapped fresh sanctions on Pyongyang and declared it a state sponsor of terrorism. / AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
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"Russian vessels have made ship-to-ship transfers of petrochemicals to North Korean vessels on several occasions this year in breach of sanctions," the first security source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters.

A second source, who independently confirmed the existence of the Russian ship-to-ship fuel trade with North Korea, said there was no evidence of Russian state involvement in the latest transfers.

"There is no evidence that this is backed by the Russian state but these Russian vessels are giving a lifeline to the North Koreans," the second European security source said.

The two security sources cited naval intelligence and satellite imagery of the vessels operating out of Russian Far Eastern ports on the Pacific but declined to disclose further details to Reuters, saying it was classified.

Russia's Foreign Ministry and the Russian Customs Service both declined to comment when asked on Wednesday if Russian ships had supplied fuel to North Korean vessels. The owner of one ship accused of smuggling oil to North Korea denied any such activity.

The latest report came as China, responding on Friday to criticism from U.S. President Donald Trump, denied it had illicitly shipped oil products to North Korea.

North Korea relies on imported fuel to keep its struggling economy functioning. It also requires oil for its intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear program that the United States says threatens the peace in Asia.

"The vessels are smuggling Russian fuel from Russian Far Eastern ports to North Korea," said the first security source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Reuters was unable to independently verify that the vessels had transferred fuel to North Korean vessels, whether the Russian state knew about the sales or how many Russian vessels were involved in the transfers. It was also unclear how much fuel may have been smuggled.

Ship satellite positioning data consulted by Reuters and available on Reuters Eikon shows unusual movements by some of the Russian vessels named by the security sources including switching off the transponders which give a precise location.

The security sources said the Russian-flagged tanker Vityaz was one vessel that had transferred fuel to North Korean vessels.

The Vityaz left the port of Slavyanka near Vladivostok in Russia on Oct. 15 with 1,600 tonnes of oil, according to Russian port control documents.

Documents submitted by the vessel's agent to the Russian State Port Control authority showed its destination as a fishing fleet in the Japan Sea. Shipping data showed the vessel switched off its transponder for a few days as it sailed into open waters.

According to the European security sources, the Vityaz conducted a ship-to-ship transfer with the North Korean Flagged Sam Ma 2 tanker in open seas during October.

Reuters could not independently verify the transfer as ship tracking data showed that the Sam Ma 2 had turned off its transponder from the start of August.

The owner of the Russian vessel denied any contact with North Korean vessels but also said it was unaware that the vessel was fueling fishing boats.

Yaroslav Guk, deputy director of the tanker's owner, Vladivostok-based Alisa Ltd, said the vessel had no contacts with North Korean vessels.

"Absolutely no, this is very dangerous," Guk told Reuters by telephone. "It would be complete madness."

When contacted a second time, Guk said the vessel did not have any contacts with North Korean ships and that he would not answer further questions.

An official at East Coast Ltd, the vessel's transport agent, declined to comment.

18 PHOTOS
Wanson, North Korea: Kim Jong Un's pet tourism project
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Wanson, North Korea: Kim Jong Un's pet tourism project
A family builds a sandcastle at Songdowon International Children's Camp in Wonsan City in this undated photo released by KCNA. To match Special Report NORTHKOREA-TOURISM/WONSAN KCNA/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS
The Bay of Wonsan is seen from a hotel room in this October, 2016 photo in Wonsan, North Korea. To match Special Report NORTHKOREA-TOURISM/WONSAN Christian Petersen-Clausen/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Portraits of former leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are seen in central Wonsan, North Korea October 2016. To match Special Report NORTHKOREA-TOURISM/WONSAN Christian Petersen-Clausen/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Artists of the Moranbong Band, the State Merited Chorus and the Wangjaesan Art Troupe, perform in Wonsan City of Kangwon Province, North Korea in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on September 14, 2017. To match Special Report NORTHKOREA-TOURISM/WONSAN KCNA/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.
The Mangyongbong 92 ferry is seen docked in central Wonsan, North Korea, October 2016. The ferry used to carry goods and people between North Korean and Japan until Tokyo introduced unilateral sanctions banning the trips. To match Special Report NORTHKOREA-TOURISM/WONSAN Christian Petersen-Clausen/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
People swim at Songdowon International Children's Camp in Wonsan City, North Korea in this undated photo released by KCNA. To match Special Report NORTHKOREA-TOURISM/WONSAN KCNA/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS
Artists of the Moranbong Band, the State Merited Chorus and the Wangjaesan Art Troupe, perform in Wonsan City of Kangwon Province, North Korea in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on September 14, 2017. To match Special Report NORTHKOREA-TOURISM/WONSAN KCNA/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.
Statues of former leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are seen in Wonsan, North Korea October 2016. To match Special Report NORTHKOREA-TOURISM/WONSAN Christian Petersen-Clausen/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
A girl carrying goods cycles past wild flowers near the North Korean town of Wonsan October, 2016. To match Special Report NORTHKOREA-TOURISM/WONSAN Christian Petersen-Clausen/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
The centre of Wonsan, North Korea, is seen from a hotel window October, 2016. To match Special Report NORTHKOREA-TOURISM/WONSAN Christian Petersen-Clausen/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un provides field guidance to the Wonsan Baby Home and Orphanage in the run-up to a ceremony for their completion, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) June 2, 2015. REUTERS/KCNA ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS.
People attend the Wonsan Air Festival 2016 in Wonsan, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on September 26, 2016. KCNA/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. SOUTH KOREA OUT. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) applauds during a photo session with the soldier-builders who performed labor feats in building the Wonsan Baby Home and Orphanage in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang June 3, 2015. REUTERS/KCNA ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.
This undated photo released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on December 9, 2016 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (C) at the Wonsan Shoes Factory in Kangwon Province. / AFP / KCNA VIA KNS / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
A man kisses a child on her head during the second day of the Wonsan Friendship Air Festival in Wonsan on September 25, 2016. Just weeks after carrying out its fifth nuclear test, North Korea put on an unprecedented civilian and military air force display Saturday at the country's first ever public aviation show. / AFP / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
Parachutists prepare to perform an aerial display during the second day of the Wonsan Friendship Air Festival in Wonsan on September 25, 2016. Just weeks after carrying out its fifth nuclear test, North Korea put on an unprecedented civilian and military air force display Saturday at the country's first ever public aviation show. / AFP / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Spectators cheer as parachutists perform an aerial display during the second day of the Wonsan Friendship Air Festival in Wonsan on September 25, 2016. Just weeks after carrying out its fifth nuclear test, North Korea put on an unprecedented civilian and military air force display Saturday at the country's first ever public aviation show. / AFP / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
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Two other Russian flagged tankers made similar journeys between the middle of October and November, leaving from the ports of Slavyanka and Nakhodka into open seas where they switched off their transponders, shipping data showed.

In September, Reuters reported that at least eight North Korean ships that left Russia loaded with fuel this year headed for their homeland despite declaring other destinations, a ploy that U.S. officials say is often used to undermine sanctions.

A Russian shipping source with knowledge of Far Eastern marine practices said North Korean vessels had stopped loading fuel in Russia's Far Eastern ports but that fuel is delivered at sea by tankers using ship-to-ship transfers, or even by fishing vessels.

China on Friday denied reports it had been illicitly selling oil products to North Korea in violation of U.N. sanctions, after U.S. President Donald Trump said he was unhappy that China had allowed oil to reach the isolated nation.

China's denial came a day after it blocked a U.S. effort at the United Nations to blacklist six ships Washington believes had engaged in illicit trade with North Korea, a U.N. Security Council diplomat said.

According to documents seen by Reuters this month, the United States had proposed that the U.N. Security Council blacklist 10 ships for illicit trade with North Korea.

It accused the vessels of "conducting illegal ship-to-ship transfers of refined petroleum products to North Korean vessels or illegally transporting North Korean coal to other countries for exports."

Three North Korean ships among the 10 were blacklisted, along with a Panama-registered vessel. (Editing by Giles Elgood and Alistair Bell)

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