(ATTN: UPDATES with S. Korea's response in last 4 paras; CHANGES dateline)
SEOUL/WASHINGTON, March 22 (Yonhap) -- The United States on Thursday sanctioned two Chinese shipping companies for helping North Korea evade sanctions, demonstrating its resolve to keep pressure on the regime until it dismantles its nuclear weapons program.
The Department of the Treasury said it is sanctioning Dalian Haibo International Freight Co. Ltd. and Liaoning Danxing International Forwarding Co. Ltd. It also said it is updating its advisory on North Korea's illicit shipping practices to name dozens more vessels suspected of exporting North Korean coal or engaging in ship-to-ship transfers of refined petroleum.
The measures follow the collapse of last month's second summit in Vietnam between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
The two sides failed to reach any accord due to disagreements over the scope of North Korea's denuclearization and sanctions relief from the U.S.
"The United States and our like-minded partners remain committed to achieving the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement, adding that the full implementation of U.N. Security Council sanctions on North Korea is "crucial to a successful outcome."
The U.N. sanctions, which were imposed in the wake of North Korea's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests through 2017, include a cap on the regime's imports of refined petroleum and a ban on its exports of coal.
In updating the advisory, which was first released in February 2018, the Treasury said North Korean ports received at least 263 tanker deliveries last year of refined petroleum via illicit ship-to-ship transfers.
If these tankers were full, North Korea would have imported 3.78 million barrels, or more than 7.5 times the amount permitted under the U.N.-imposed cap of 500,000 barrels a year.
The Treasury said Dalian Haibo provided goods and services to or in support of Paeksol Trading Corp., a North Korean entity previously sanctioned for engaging in metal or coal trade and possibly providing revenue to the Pyongyang regime.
Liaoning Danxing operated in the transportation industry in North Korea and "routinely used deceptive practices" that helped North Korean procurement officials in the European Union to purchase goods for the regime, the department said.
The sanctions freeze the companies' property and interests in the U.S. and in control of U.S. citizens.
Meanwhile, the new advisory names 71 more vessels, in addition to the 24 listed last year, that are believed to be capable of engaging in or have already engaged in ship-to-ship transfers of refined petroleum, or thought to have exported North Korean coal.
One vessel believed to have transferred refined petroleum is the Lunis, which is identified as being registered in South Korea.
The Treasury also marked the southern South Korean cities of Busan, Yeosu and Gwangyang on a graphic illustrating the ports of call before and after the ship-to-ship transfers of refined petroleum.
It said North Korea has used a variety of deceptive shipping practices, including disabling or manipulating the internationally accepted Automatic Identification System; physically altering vessels; tranferring cargo from ship to ship at sea, rather than in port; and falsifying cargo and vessel documents.
"Treasury will continue to enforce our sanctions, and we are making it explicitly clear that shipping companies employing deceptive tactics to mask illicit trade with North Korea expose themselves to great risk," Mnuchin said.
The South Korean government plans to carry out a thorough investigation into the allegations involving the Lunis, an official in Seoul said.
"South Korea and the U.S. have kept a close eye on the vessel and (we) will look thoroughly into whether it has violated the U.N. Security Council resolutions," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs official said on condition of anonymity.
The ministry will also ask domestic firms to heed the updated advisory, the official added.
The last time the U.S. issued sanctions against North Korea was in December, when it targeted Choe Ryong-hae, a close aide to the leader, for human rights abuses.