New Zealand to intercept North Korean vessels in Pacific waters

A New Zealand-led proposal to cut off North Korea's ability to operate in Pacific waters has just been accepted by leaders at the Pacific Islands Forum. 

The initiative will see New Zealand help identify North Korean fishing and cargo vessels that fly under the radar using the flags of small Pacific states - and get them deregistered. 

Foreign Affairs Minister Gerry Brownlee is currently visiting Samoa, in an effort to squeeze North Korean vessels out of the South Pacific. 

"What we've said is that we'd be prepared to help with intelligence athering to identify them so that Pacific states can deregister them, and be in compliance with UN sanctions regulations," he said. 

North Korea has long-tried to hide its vessels by registering them with small Pacific nations, using the so-called "flag of convenience" system.

One North Korean ship, the Orion Star, has changed its name multiple times and flown the flags of Tuvalu, Kiribati, and Fiji in recent years, before being blacklisted.

The trouble is, vessels linked to Pyongyang can use fake companies to further disguise their true ownership. 

Mr Brownlee says he is prepared to use whatever intelligence capacity necessary in finding out about the structures behind those fishing and trading operations. 

Vanuatu's ship registry is currently open to any nationality, but the country's Prime Minister Charlot Salwai says this is now under review. 

"We really don't know whether some Korean boats are flying our flags," he said. "I do not have any information about this."

During Pacific Forum discussions, New Zealand also announced a plan to improve regional airport security so passenger data is closely scrutinised. Mr Brownlee says this is in order to ensure there's no one using Pacific Island states for "nefarious purposes", particularly around the issue of terrorism. 

Aviation security in many Pacific Island states is basic, under-resourced, and seen as a soft target for those trying to evade detection.

Mr Brownlee says New Zealand will contribute 11.5 million over the next five years to improve training and airport screening in nine countries around the Pacific.