U.S. Coast Guard officials in Pago Pago on Monday released a seized North Korean cargo ship suspected of violating international sanctions.
The 580-foot, 17,601-ton single-hull bulk carrier M/V Wise Honest left American Samoa because it was sold under the orders of federal judges in New York and Washington to compensate families of two victims of North Korean torture.
They’re the parents of Otto Warmbier — the American student who died in 2017 shortly after being released in a vegetative state by North Korea after being tortured for allegedly trying to steal a propaganda poster — and the brother and son of the Rev. Dong Shik Kim, who was kidnapped, tortured and executed by Pyongyang’s agents in 2000.
Indonesian authorities had detained the vessel while it was hauling coal in 2018, later surrendering it to U.S. officials who removed the ship to Pago Pago five months ago.
“We are grateful to our partners in American Samoa and the Department of Justice who led this operation,” said Capt. Arex Avanni, Coast Guard Sector Honolulu’s commander and the captain of the American Samoa port, in a prepared statement emailed to Navy Times on Thursday.
“We are pleased this event concluded without incident and to have supported the effort by ensuring the safety of the strategic deepwater port of Pago Pago and the security of the vessel while in U.S. custody.”
The Coast Guard had security over the vessel while it was in the American territory, relying on personnel from Maritime Safety and Security Team Honolulu, Sector Honolulu, the Marine Safety Detachment in American Samoa and the cutters Joseph Gerczak and Walnut.
It's now in the process of being moved to American Samoa, Justice Department officials said.
Federal prosecutors in New York did not immediately return calls from Navy Times.
Their case in federal court — “United States of America v. The Bulk Cargo Carrier Known as the ‘Wise Honest,’ Bearing International Maritime Organization Number 8905490” — is overseen by judge P. Kevin Castel.
On July 18, the federal prosecutors received judicial approval to sell the vessel on behalf of the Warmbiers.
Five days later, however, federal judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington authorized Han Kim and Yong Seok Kim to enforce their 2015 default judgment for $330 million against North Korea stemming from the kidnapping and execution of their father and brother in 2000.
“A winning bidder was selected, and the sale was completed on Sept. 12," read an agency statement emailed to Navy Times on Wednesday. “The U.S. Marshals do not disclose winning bid amounts or the identity of buyers in our sealed bid auctions.”
Questions remain about how much the 30-year-old vessel will fetch for the families.
According to the Samoa News, it was sold for scrap.
And the winning mystery bidder most likely paid far less than that to haul it away.