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North Korean vessel seized by feds comes into Port of Pago Pago

North Korean cargo vessel Wise Honest coming into Pago Pago harbor. [photo: Samoa News]
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA (AP) — A North Korean cargo ship seized by the U.S. because of suspicions it was used to violate international sanctions arrived Saturday at the capital of this American territory.

The Wise Honest was slowly towed to the port of Pago Pago Saturday morning and docked at the main docking section of the port that afternoon.

The trip from Indonesia took about three weeks, and American Samoa, in the South Pacific, was chosen because of “its central strategic location,” U.S. Coast Guard public affairs officer Amanda Wyrick said.

“We also have a good strong relationship and partnership with the American Samoan government,” Wyrick said. “With that being said, we also already have the resources that are able to ensure the security of the vessel but most importantly the Port of Pago Pago.”

Detained near Indonesia

The ship was detained in April as it traveled toward Indonesia. Justice Department officials announced Thursday that the U.S. had seized the ship.

Asked as to how long the ship will be in the territory, Wyrick said the U.S. Department of Justice is “leading the investigation so they will be conducting that. Upon the conclusion of the investigation, the ship will be moved.” But the next destination is unknown, she said.

She said she didn’t have the exact number of U.S. Coast Guard personnel or people from other federal agencies who have traveled to American Samoa for the investigation.

“I do know that, we have a marine and safety security team here from Honolulu,” Wyrick said. “We’re conducting random patrols, also conducting inspection of the vessel and the Port of Pago Pago, keep an eye on things such as security breaches or vandalization of the ship itself.”

Protecting the port

Officials are also making sure the port is protected, she said.

“We especially in the Coast Guard, we understand the importance of the port. It’s a lifeline in getting goods to the islands,” Wyrick said. “So we want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can, to make sure that there’s absolutely no disruption to the flow of commerce coming in and out.”

U.S. officials made the announcement of the ship’s seizure hours after North Korea fired two suspected short-range missiles toward the sea, the second weapons launch in five days and a possible signal that stalled talks over its nuclear weapons program are in trouble.

The following is the text of a media relase issued by the Governor's Office:

Acting Governor Lemanu Peleti Mauga’s met with United States Department of Justice, and Coast Guard who are on island for the arrival of the Motor Vessel Wise Honest.

The Motor Vessel Wise Honest is being towed into the Port of Pago Pago, American Samoa. The Coast Guard has provided inspectors from Activities Far East Detachment, Singapore, to provide technical support to assess the condition and readiness of the vessel for safe transport. The Coast Guard, in conjunction with other federal interagency partners, and the American Samoa Government, has made appropriate preparations for the safe arrival and sustainment of the vessel in Pago Pago.

Random security, and health patrols and clearance of the vessel and the port will be conducted by Federal Agencies, Coast Guard, and the support of the Port Authority, Department of Public Safety, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Treasury, Department of Health, and ASEPA  to maintain safety and eliminate any intentional damage to the vessel and territory.

The Federal Government takes waterway safety and security very seriously and understands the importance for a safe flow of commerce in and out of the Port of Pago Pago. Safe vessel traffic flow is a priority of the U.S. Coast Guard and the Captain of the Port is committed to continue to work with our federal, local and territorial partners to address and discuss any concerns the vessel may pose to the public.

The Motor Vessel Wise Honest is being brought to the Port of Pago Pago due to the central, strategic and deep-water location. It was deemed feasible and appropriate by federal agencies involved. The U.S. and part of the U.N. have the resources already in place that will ensure and maintain the security and safety of the vessel and most importantly, American Samoa.