38 North Korea reported on Sept. 4, 2021, that North Korea restarted construction of a new wharf in Nampo Port. / Image: 38 North

North Korea has recently resumed efforts to buy used oil tankers. The Ministry of External Economic Relations, which oversees the country’s trade, activities to attract foreign investment, and the development of special economic zones, is leading the effort.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a source in North Korea told Daily NK on Tuesday that “a new delegation to negotiate the purchase of used oil tankers, which was assembled at the time of the Ministry of External Economic Relations’ first-quarter review, was sent to China on May 12 in small groups through the customs houses of Sinuiju, North Pyongan Province, and Manpo, Chagang Province.

“The delegation is disguised as a cultural exchange group between North Korean and Chinese provincial regions, but in reality it went to China to negotiate with major shipbuilders through Chinese intermediaries. It plans to buy used oil tankers within the year.”

According to the source, North Korea also tried to negotiate the purchase of used oil tankers with Chinese companies last year. These talks are essentially renegotiations, with the delegation from the Ministry of External Economic Affairs planning to complete the transactions in China – through Chinese intermediaries – in the second or third quarter of this year.

The source said North Korea intends to use the old tankers to transport oil – a key energy source – and other goods. Therefore, the country’s leadership believes the purchase is a long-term strategy to support the national policy of economic self-reliance.

North Korea appears intent in evading sanctions by using the ships to import oil in excess of the ceilings set by U.N. Security Council Resolution 2397, which are four million barrels of crude oil and 500,000 barrels of refined petroleum per year.

Now that it has been sent to China, the Ministry of External Economic Relations delegation is likely to begin serious negotiations with Chinese brokers and shipbuilders to purchase the used oil tankers.

“Subcontractors of several Chinese companies, such as Sinotrans, have been discussed as transaction partners,” the source said. “The Ministry of External Economic Relations has great confidence in them, as they have an internationally recognized ability to operate and maintain ships.”

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