The US Treasury Department has announced penalties against Hong Kong and Taiwanese shipping firms it says are helping North Korea circumvent United Nations sanctions on oil exports and imports.

It said the companies are helping North Korea with “illicit ship-to-ship (STS) transfers to circumvent United Nations sanctions that restrict the import of petroleum products,” adding that the firms “engaged in at least one significant importation from or exportation to North Korea of any goods, services, or technology”.

The Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control blocked the assets of Hong Kong-based Jui Cheng Shipping Company, as well as Taiwan-based Jui Pang Shipping and Jui Zong Ship Management.

“Shipping companies trading with North Korea are exposing themselves to significant sanctions risk, despite the deceptive practices they try to employ,” Treasury Under Secretary Sigal Mandelker said in a statement.

The agency also targeted two Taiwan-based individuals Huang Wang Ken and Chen Mei Hsiang, as well as a vessel in which the two have an interest.

The Treasury said the attempts to secure refined petroleum through the ship-to-ship transfers evade UN sanctions aimed at preventing North Korea from obtaining resources that would support its weapons of mass destruction and missile programmes. (AFP)