UNITED NATIONS – The United States is responsible for a ship that has been “forcibly detained” by Mexico months after it ran aground off Mexico’s Gulf coast last year, North Korea claimed on Wednesday.
The Asian country’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations told reporters Wednesday that the ship, Mu DU Bong, is strictly a commercial ship with more than 50 crew members still remaining on board.
An Myong Hun said his country will take unspecified “necessary measure to make the ship leave immediately.”
The head of a U.N. panel of experts, however, said the ship is owned by a North Korean company that is under U.N. sanctions and should be "frozen," and that the panel has received excellent cooperation from Mexico in tracking the company and its assets.
"In the case of the Mu Du Bong, the evidence is overwhelming," Hugh Griffiths told The Associated Press in an email. The U.N. sanctions were imposed in response to North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.
The ship's parent company, Ocean Maritime Management Co., was sanctioned last July after Panamanian authorities found two Cuban fighter jets, missiles and live munitions beneath a cargo of sugar in another ship the company operated.
OMM responded by simply renaming most of its vessels in an effort to avoid detection, the panel reported earlier this year. North Korea has a history of using front companies for that purpose.
An denied that the ship was carrying anything prohibited by U.N. sanctions and said it has no relations with OMM.
The North Korean diplomat also said Mexican authorities in January had decided to release the ship but "suddenly" revoked its decision.
The U.N. panel's report, released in February, said the experts had informed Mexican authorities that the ship is an OMM asset.
The panel's recent report said the Pyongyang-based company has simply renamed most of its vessels to avoid detection. Nuclear-armed North Korea has a history of using front companies for that purpose.
It also said the experts had informed Mexican authorities that the ship is an OMM asset. An said Mexican authorities in January had decided to release the ship but "suddenly" revoked its decision. The experts' report was released in February.
The ship ran aground last July and damaged nearly an acre of coral reefs. The North Korean embassy in Mexico was asked to post a 10-million peso ($770,000) bond for any damage assessment. An said North Korea has paid the necessary fees and has "no legal obligation" to wait to move the ship.
"The U.S. has no right to interfere in this bilateral issue," An said.
Ricardo Alday, political coordinator for Mexico's mission to the U.N., said in an email that Mexico is not forcibly detaining the ship and that his country is fulfilling its international obligations. He said the 33 North Korean crew members "have absolute freedom of movement" and sleep in a hotel in the port of Tuxpan, where the ship is anchored.
There was no immediate comment from the U.S. mission to the U.N.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.