Japan's Maritime Self-Defence Force (MSDF) has deployed its ships and seaplanes in waters near the Northern Limit Line (NLL) in the Korean Peninsula in an attempt to thwart North Korea from evading United Nations (UN) sanctions.
Following a request from the U.S. military in December to the Japanese government, MSDF ships have been stationed in the Yellow Sea to keep a close watch on foreign ships transferring oil to North Korea, the Japan Times reported.
A source from the MSDF said, "We are following the standard rules for warning and surveillance activities for the mission. The main purpose is to monitor ship movements and collect information to share with the United States. The MSDF does not forcibly inspect ships, as it is not authorised to do so unless certain conditions are met under the Self-Defense Forces Law."
But the government believes the activities will put more pressure not only on North Korea but also on China and Russia, which are allegedly economic enablers of North Korea's weapons development programs.
The MSDF has also sent its ships and surveillance seaplanes as far as the East China Sea and the Sea of Japan, for daily patrolling of suspicious ships coming near the Korean peninsula.
According to local sources, the MSDF takes photographs of the suspicious ships and share them with the US.
However, a senior MSDF official has said it is not clear whether the efforts will yield results in foiling oil smuggling.
"We cannot forcibly investigate ships. They could leave the area and sail to a different location to meet (a North Korean ship) and transfer the items. The activities have significance in tightening the net around North Korea, but the actual effects remain uncertain."
North Korea has become a virtual pariah in the international community after conducting nuclear tests and launching three intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) last year.
The recent development comes days after the two Koreas agreed to hold their military and working-level talks to solve their border tensions and to discuss North Korea's probable participation in the next month's Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
The rare talks come amid the increasing tension between the two countries, as South Korea earlier seized a Hong Kong-flagged oil tanker returning after allegedly transferring oil to North Korea. American satellites had reportedly spotted Chinese ships, suspected of selling oil to North Korean vessels about 30 times since October.
North Korea has become a virtual pariah in the international community since the UN imposed tough sanctions on the country, after conducting nuclear tests and launching three intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) last year.