INSIGHT: North Korea Sanctions


Sanctions against North Korea (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) were expanded in May 2016 in response to nuclear testing and ballistic missile launches. The continued development of the nuclear and missile programmes during 2017 have led to further extension of sanctions by the UN, EU and US.

Reference is made to the International Group Circular published on 14 January 2019 which contains important information about the enforcement of sanctions.

The restrictions imposed by the sanctions now include:

  • Prohibition on any activities with the Government of North Korea or Workers Party
  • Arms embargo
  • Ban on the purchase and transportation of petroleum products from North Korea
  • Ban on import or export from/to North Korea of certain goods, services and technology
  • Ban on the purchase or transportation from North Korea of gold, titanium ore, vanadium ore, rare earth minerals, coal, iron and iron ore
  • Ban on vessels entering EU ports which are owned, operated or crewed by North Korea
  • Ban on all leasing and chartering of vessels and the provision of crew services to North Korean flagged vessels
  • Ban on owning and operating of or providing classification, insurance services to North Korean-flagged vessels
  • Inspection for vessels proceeding to or from North Korea to be searched
  • Ban on having financial or banking correspondent relationships and JVs with North Korea
  • Ban on investing on North Korean energy, transportation, financial services, information technology, manufacturing, mining, refining and chemical industries
  • Ban on luxury goods which cannot be supplied to North Korea
  • Expansion of persons and entities on SDNs lists, including banks and shipping companies and high ranking military officers

For designations check:



UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2270 (2016) imposing a variety of restrictions on trade with North Korea including arms embargo. The Security Council adopted further measures on 2 June 2017 under Resolution 2356 (2017).

On 5 August 2017 UN Resolution No. 2371 imposed further sanctions on North Korea including ban on export/transportation of seafood from North Korea and exportation of coal, iron, iron ore, lead and lead ore. UN also authorised designation of vessels engaged in any of the prohibited activities relating to North Korea.

On 11 September 2017 UN issued Resolution 2375 banning imports to North Korea of gas and condensate, capping import of refined petroleum products at two million barrels and restricting supply of crude oil. Resolution further prohibits exports of textiles, establishing or expanding JVs with North Korean entities; providing work authorisations to North Korean nationals.

Following North Korea's ballistic missile test on 29 November 2017, the UN Security Council decided to increase sanctions against North Korea by unanimously adopting UNSC Resolution 2397 (2017) (word document). The main measures are as follows:

  • Caps North Korea's imports of refined petroleum to 500,000 barrels for 12 months starting on 1 January 2018;
  • Limits North Korea's imports of crude oil to 4 million barrels for 12 months as of 22 December 2017;
  • Introduces a ban on North Korea's export of food and agricultural products, machinery, electrical equipment, earth and stone, wood and vessels;
  • Introduces a ban on the supply, sale or transfer to North Korea of all industrial machinery, transportation vehicles, iron, steel and other metals (except spare parts to maintain North Korean commercial civilian passenger aircraft currently in use);
  • Requires Member States to repatriate all North Korean nationals earning income within 24 months from 22 December 2017;
  • Authorises Member States to seize, inspect, freeze and impound any vessel in their territorial waters found to be illicitly providing oil to North Korea through ship to ship transfers, or smuggling coal and other prohibited commodities from the country.

The UNSC stated that additional tests of nuclear weapons or long range ballistic missiles by North Korea would result in further restrictions on its import of petroleum. UN press release here.



EU restrictive measures against North Korea were first introduced in December 2006.

In March 2016 the EU implemented the UN's wide-ranging new sanctions on North Korea, which included a ban on importing North Korean coal, iron, and iron ore, a prohibition on financial institutions opening new branches, subsidiaries, or representative offices in North Korea, and made any cargo originating in or destined for North Korea liable for inspection.

In August and October 2017 new regulations were issued: Council Regulation (EU) 2017/1509 and EU 2017/1836 aligning sanctions with latest UN Resolutions; new designated vessels and entities were also added.

EU continued to expand its sanctions on North Korea during 2017 and further extensions can be expected.



Current North Korea sanctions program began in 2008 with E.O. 13466.

Since 2008 subsequent Executive Orders have been issued expanding the national emergency, blocking property of designated persons and prohibiting certain transactions including any transactions of arms or related materials with North Korea and any activity supporting the Government of North Korea.

E.O. 13722 expanded prohibitions imposing a comprehensive trade embargo against North Korea and going beyond the measures imposed by the UN and the EU. The E.O. 13722 allows US to impose secondary sanctions on non-US persons involved in trade to/from North Korea of prohibited goods and where the revenue may benefit the Government of North Korea/Worker's Party of North Korea. The list of designated entities and individuals has been steadily expanded from 2017 onwards.

On 2 August 2017 the President signed the "Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA)" introducing wide sanctions against North Korea aimed at cutting off sources of income for the North Korean Government and deterring nuclear program. CAATSA prohibit providing bunkers, fuel, insurance or registration services to North Korean vessels; purchase of precious metals, supply of crude oil, gas, coal, iron and petroleum products.

On 20 September 2017 President signed Executive Order 13810 further expanding US sanctions against North Korea. E.O. 13810 authorised to sanction foreign banks that engage in significant transactions with North Korea and block specific bank accounts linked to North Korea. New sanctions apply a "180 days rule" prohibiting calling into US of aircraft and vessels that have stopped in North Korea for a period of 6 months. Certain exceptions are granted under General License 10 for vessels in destress and seeking refuge. E.O also imposes a ban on owning, controlling or operating any port in North Korea.

OFAC has updated its FAQs to reflect changes to the sanctions regime. OFAC also has replaced existing General License No. 3 with General License No. 3A, which permits US financial institutions to debit blocked accounts for normal service charges.

On 23 February 2018 OFAC and USCG jointly issued a special advisory on "Sanctions Risks Related to North Korea's Shipping Practices" regarding deceptive methods in shipping used by North Korea to evade sanctions.
OFAC also published new designations targeting 27 entities and 28 North Korea linked vessels.

On 3 March 2018 OFAC amended and re-issued in its entirety the North Korea Sanctions Regulations, in order to implement Executive Orders 13687, 13722, and 13810, and to reference the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016 and the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act of 2017.

On 21 March 2019 OFAC published Updated Guidance on Addressing North Korea's Illicit Shipping Practices drawing the industry's attention to the deceptive methods used by North Korea. The Guidance includes a list of risk mitigation measures that the shipping industry shall adopt, e.g. monitor for AIS manipulation and disablement, research prior to ship-to-ship transfers, etc.

For more information on the US sanctions please see OFAC's North Korea page.

Members considering any business involving voyages to North Korea or North Korean persons should not act in reliance solely on the information provided here. They must make their own enquiries and take legal advice which can take account of their circumstances.