Canadian warship witnesses possible violations of North Korea sanctions

Crew members on HMCS Calgary took photos and collected other information

The crew of a Canadian warship in the Pacific had front-row seats to potential violations of UN sanctions against North Korea during a recent patrol in the East China Sea — but was under orders not to intercept any suspicious vessels, the ship’s commander says.

Crew members on HMCS Calgary instead took photos and collected other information, Cmdr. Blair Saltel said Tuesday.

“We saw several ship-to-ship transfers at sea and by the markings — based on the intelligence that we had — some of those were associated with … potential violators of those sanctions,” Saltel said.

“We maintained a (distance), and that’s in (accordance) with the entire approach to the operation. We took pictures, we passed that information to the higher authorities and the expectation is that could be used for legal sanctions.”

HMCS Calgary is the first Canadian military vessel to deploy to the area after the federal government agreed earlier this year to help the U.S. and other allies crack down on smuggling designed to subvert sanctions against North Korea.

RELATED: Koreas agree to break ground on inter-Korean railroad

Western security officials have previously accused Russia and China of exporting oil to North Korea — or at least turning a blind eye as their companies do — which would be a violation of sanctions. Both countries have denied the charge.

While the Canadian frigate did not intercept any vessels, Saltel said the mere presence of a Western warship was enough in some cases to cause the other vessels to turn tail and run.

“We noted in a few instances that the transfers would wrap up quite quickly and they would have to escape. So our presence disrupted several of the transfers. But we had no intention of actually doing something as forceful as boarding or blocking a ship.”

The Calgary and the navy’s interim support ship, MV Asterix, are wrapping up a six-month deployment in the Pacific off Asia, during which they also participated in several multinational military exercises and visited several countries.

One of the main objectives was to demonstrate Canada’s naval presence in a part of the world that is growing increasingly important to Canadian prosperity and international security.

Saltel said the deployment has included being shadowed by Chinese naval vessels in the South and East China Seas, which has become routine for Western military ships operating in the area amid growing tensions over competing territorial claims.

The U.S., the United Kingdom and other allies have made a point of sailing close to disputed islands and through disputed waters claimed by China, prompting several close calls and tense moments as the latter flexes its muscles.

RELATED: B.C. judge grants $10M bail for Huawei executive wanted by U.S.

The situation in the South China Sea, in particular, has been compared to a powder keg, as Chinese and U.S. naval vessels have almost collided as the U.S. navy has conducted ”freedom of navigation” operations.

Saltel said he was not directed to do anything like that, and while HMCS Calgary did sail near the disputed Spratly Islands, its course was intended to save fuel and not to send a message to China.

The Canadian officer said his Chinese “shadows” acted professionally and “never really came within a distance that I would have considered unsafe.”

HMCS Calgary’s recent deployment was also unique for being the first to involve the Asterix, a converted civilian vessel that the federal government is leasing from Quebec-based Davie Shipbuilding until permanent support ships can be built.

The Asterix is captained and crewed by civilians except for a small contingent of military personnel who are responsible for providing fuel and other supplies at sea. Saltel said it has conducted about 50 such replenishments with the Calgary and allies.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Officials for Mills Memorial Hospital replacement project named

Project is estimated to cost $450 million

Letter to the editor: I stand with them

Hazelton resident shares his perspective on why he supports the Wet’suwet’en

Terrace cab stolen, found destroyed along Hwy 16 riverbank at rest stop

Driver was sent to Prince Rupert hospital after stealing the running vehicle from company lot

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs call for end of police patrols

Temporary closure of field office not enough to meet demands

CGL must revise impact assessment on Unist’ot’en Healing Center

Environmental Assessment Office not satisfied with report’s shortcomings

Protecting privacy key to stopping spread of COVID-19, B.C. health officials say

The number of coronavirus cases in B.C. remains at seven

Toffoli scores OT winner as Canucks beat Habs 4-3

Demko makes 37 saves for Vancouver

Private clinics would harm ‘ordinary’ people using public system in B.C.: lawyer

Health Minister Adrian Dix announced in 2018 that the government would begin to fine doctors $10,000

B.C. terminates contract with hospice society refusing assisted death

Delta Hospice Society loses hospital service fund of $1.5 million

Child in hospital following fatal crash that killed father, sibling on B.C. highway

The single vehicle crash occured near Kamloops on Highway 5A

‘Die!’: Vernon councillor mailed death threat

This story contains information that might be sensitive to some readers

Hidden message connects Castlegar homeowners decades apart

The Rodgers family was surprised when a message fell out of the walls as they were renovating

Two B.C. men plead guilty to bus-terminal assault of man with autism in Ontario

Parmvir Chahil and Jaspaul Uppal due to be sentenced in June for aggravated assault

Most Read