Vulnerabilities of the transportation Industry in relation to cargo to and from Iran and DPRK

Analysis of violations of the DPRK sanctions and Iran restrictions reveal certain characteristics of elevated risks connected with the geography of the two countries, and the characteristics of ships and aircrafts


North Korea (DPRK) has a relatively moderate infrastructure for sea, air, and land transport. There are maybe twenty civilian and military airports with runways suitable for larger aircraft and seven seaports with an anchorage depth of ten or more meters, meeting one qualification of deep water ports, i.e., to harbor large, fully loaded cargo vessels. Russia and China are the two neighbors with which North Korea maintains political and economic relationships, whereas with South Korea, its third direct neighbor, relations often fluctuate from tense to hostile.

Iran, on the other hand, is connected to its neighbors through a very advanced network of several hundreds of airports and dozens of seaports, in addition to numerous road connections. In fact, Iran’s links to the outside world are so complex that it is futile to consider a conventional sanctions monitoring scheme by air-, sea-, or land-traffic surveillance and physical inspections. Its immediate neighbors are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Turkey; and Kuwait as well as the United Arab Emirates, and other Gulf States are only a very short distance away by air or sea.


Despite such discrepancies in geography, attempts to deliver illegal proliferation supplies and other embargoed items to and from the DPRK and Iran have revealed a number of similar vulnerabilities in the international transportation system. The following criteria apply to maritime or aviation vessels, their owners and operators.

To ensure full compliance with UN sanctions, it is recommended to consider the following issues in any compliance and due diligence effort. A combination of inconclusive results or warning signs should not necessarily be accepted as evidence for a sanctions violation, but rather treated as a red flag that requires additional investigations:

  • Destinations, trans-shipment ports, or use of trade free zones;
  • Compliance with official policies by the International Maritime Organization or the International Civil Aviation Organization regarding the identification and matriculation of maritime or aviation vessel;
  • History of violations with international safety standards;
  • Inconsistencies with national registrations;
  • Type, maintenance and crewing of ships or aircrafts;
  • Distinctions between regularly scheduled versus special use charters whereas non-scheduled charters tend to represent a higher risk.
  • Routing, including scheduled and unscheduled stop-overs, and selection of certain sea- or airports for transfer or destination.