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

The candidates for the Mid Island-Pacific Rim riding in the 2020 provincial election. Clockwise from top left: Rob Clarke, Graham Hughes, Evan Jolicoeur, Helen Poon and Josie Osborne. Osborne was declared the winner on Saturday night. (Photos submitted )
POLL QUESTION: Are you happy with the results of B.C.’s provincial election?

Josie Osborne of the BC NDP and Tofino’s now-former mayor won the Mid Island - Pacific Rim seat.

Ucluelet RCMP detachment. (Westerly file photo)
Driver facing charges after crashing into pedestrian at Ucluelet crosswalk

“It’s a reminder to slow down and pay attention,” said Sgt. Steve Mancini.

Josie Osborne and her campaign team watch the results roll in during B.C.’s provincial election on Saturday night. (Photo courtesy of Josie Osborne)
Tofino expected to wait until New Year to elect new mayor after Josie Osborne wins provincial seat

Josie Osborne is the West Coast’s new MLA and that means Tofino needs a new mayor.

Dylan Hillis preparing collagen samples from ancient dog bones at the UBC musuem of Anthropology. Photo: Eric Guiry
Ancient ‘woolly dog’ ate mostly fish, new University of Victoria study finds

Study gives researchers better understanding of human-dog relationships on Tsehaht First Nation

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives for briefing on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020 (B.C. government)
B.C. records 217 more COVID-19 cases, mask use urged

Infection spike continues, 21 senior facilities affected

Premier-elect John Horgan and cabinet ministers are sworn in for the first time at Government House in Victoria, July 18, 2017. (Arnold Lim/Black Press)
Pandemic payments have to wait for B.C. vote count, swearing-in

Small businesses advised to apply even if they don’t qualify

The Calgary Zoo is aiding in recovery efforts for the Vancouver Island marmot, an endangered species. Pictured here, a marmot at Mount Washington. (Black Press file)
Despite challenges, 2020 good year for Vancouver Island marmot population

In 2019, the foundation counted 60 pups; this year, it reached 46

A raccoon paid a visit to a Toronto Tim Hortons on Oct. 22, 2020. (shecallsmedrew/Twitter)
Who are you calling a trash panda? Raccoon takes a shift at Toronto Tim Hortons

Tim Hortons said animal control was called as soon they saw the surprise visitor

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

The duffel bags were found to contain 84 pounds of cocaine, valued at approximately $1.2 million and 198 pounds of methamphetamine, valued at approximately $960,000. Photo courtesy U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
2 men accused of fleeing border agents near U.S.-B.C. border with $2M in drugs

Cocaine and methamphetamine seized by U.S. law enforcement in remote Idaho area near Canadian border

Pixabay photo
‘Horrific’ abuse of volunteers, staff by parents must stop: Chilliwack soccer club

Parents have become abusive after being told COVID-19 rules, email says

FILE – The Queen of Alberni ferry leaves the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal in Delta bound for Vancouver Island, Sunday, July 29, 2007. (CP PHOTO/Richard Lam) CANADA
Mechanical failure leaves nearly 200 passengers stranded on BC Ferries ship for hours

A tug arrived after dark to safely nudge the vessel into a berth so travellers could finally disembark

Most Read