North Korea Sanctions-Violating Oil Tanker Bears Panama Flag

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South Korean officials are holding the 5100-tonne, Panama flagged tanker called KOTI in Pyeongtaek-Dangjin after deciding not to let release the vessel on December 21 to investigate further.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry told CNN Sunday that authorities have launched an investigation into a ship it has seized, but it would not give further details "due to the sensitivity of the issue", about whether that vessel was suspected of transferring oil to North Korea in violation of worldwide sanctions on the hermit kingdom.

"The actions will be reported to the UN Security Council sanctions committee on North Korea in the future", the official added.

The council has unanimously approved several rounds of sanctions against North Korea over its missile tests and nuclear programme, including a tough new United Nations resolution earlier this month.

On Thursday, Chinese officials were forced to deny reports that Chinese ships had carried out similar trans-shipments of fuel at sea to North Korean vessels after the U.S. released images from satellites showing the Rye Song Gang 1 connected to a Chinese tanker by hoses. The Lighthouse Winmore was seized upon re-entering Yeosu on November 24, foreign ministry officials told CNN.

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South Korea says it is inspecting a Panama-flagged oil tanker suspected of evading global sanctions by trading with North Korea.

The statement did not address whether or not Russian ships had transferred the fuel. On the same day, a Chinese vessel was seen transferring oil to North Korea's Rye Song Gang 1 ship in U.S. Treasury Department's satellite images first published in the South Korean newspaper The Chosun Ilbo earlier this week, one of 30 such instances reported in three months.

Both China and Russian Federation are the DPRK's long-standing energy patrons, as North Korea has no domestic oil and gas production of its own.

It did say resolutions by the United Nations Security Council have imposed limits on North Korea's refined oil imports but have not banned them altogether. The KOTI does not seem to be included on the list. One resolution approved in September prohibited ship-to-ship transfers, while another resolution approved last week gives member states the authority to "seize, inspect, freeze and impound" any vessel found to be providing oil through ship-to-ship transfers, smuggling coal or other sanctioned goods to North Korea. It is Panamanian flagged.