Ship-to-ship transfers, suspected to be in violation of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions which impose sanctions against North Korea, have been observed and reported during New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) maritime patrols this year.

A Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) P-8A Poseidon flew 11 missions to detect and deter evasions of UNSC resolutions, during April and May.

This was the NZDF’s sixth deployment since 2018 of a maritime patrol aircraft and specialist personnel for this purpose, and the first overseas operational deployment for the P-8A Poseidon.

North Korea continues to launch ballistic missiles in violation of UNSC resolutions. The sanctions are intended to persuade North Korea to denuclearize and abandon its ballistic missile weapons capabilities.

NZDF patrols are conducted in support of the UNSC Resolution Enforcement Coordination Centre, which coordinates efforts by Pacific Security Maritime Exchange contributing nations – including New Zealand.

RNZAF No. 5 Squadron Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Mark Whiteside, was the detachment commander for the deployment.

He said although patrols were conducted over international waters, being in the vicinity of some of the busiest commercial shipping lanes in the world added complexity to the operations.

“Those seeking to evade the UNSC sanctions adopt various tactics to try and hide what they are doing,” Wing Commander Whiteside said.

“Our personnel worked well together, acting on information about vessels of interest, identifying potential sanctions evasions at sea, documenting and reporting these activities.

“Vessels were observed conducting ship-to-ship transfers, potentially of banned goods such as oil and coal – which are key enablers that allow North Korea to continue its weapons program.”

After 11 missions and 88 flying hours, four ship-to-ship transfers and 30 vessels of interest were observed, while a further 33 vessels suspected of violating UNSC sanctions were reported.

The NZDF’s deployments, collaborating with partners on enforcement operations, uphold the international rules-based system and contribute to regional stability and security.