N Korea says ship seizure by USA illegal, demands immediate return

The trail of a suspected missile is seen on a commercial satellite image captured by Planet over the Hodo Peninsula in North Korea

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North Korea on Tuesday demanded the release of a cargo ship seized by the US on suspicion of breaching United Nations and USA sanctions, the official Yonhap news agency cited Pyongyang state media as saying.

The country's foreign ministry said in a statement that in doing so, the U.S. had violated the spirit of the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore past year.

North Korea was reacting to last week's announcement that the US Justice Department had seized a vessel accusing it of illicit coal shipments.

'The United States carried out an illegal act of robbery by seizing our cargo ship citing UN Security Council sanctions resolutions, ' an unnamed spokesman for North Korea's foreign ministry told KCNA.

The move was an "extension of the American method" of seeking to bring Pyongyang "to its knees" through maximum pressure, he said.

This is the first time the USA has seized a North Korean ship for breaching sanctions and comes amid worsening relations between the two countries.

"The US should ponder over the consequences its heinous act might have on the future developments and immediately return our ship", the statement added. -North Korean ties, with North Korea resuming weapons tests that seem meant to force the United States to ease sanctions.

The 17,061-ton vessel, called the Wise Honest, is one of North Korea's largest bulk carriers used to illicitly ship coal from North Korea and deliver heavy machinery to the country, officials said.

North Korea's formal name is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).

USA officials have shrugged off the three short-range missile tests, saying the door remains open for talks with the North.

FILE PHOTO: North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump talk in the garden of the Metropole hotel during the second North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi, Vietnam February 28, 2019.

Under a series of US and United Nations sanctions, North Korea is prohibited from a broad range of economic activities, including exports of materials such as coal. Experts believe coal and other mineral exports help finance the North's weapons industry.

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