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Otto Warmbier's Family Files Claim on Seized North Korean Coal Ship



By Victoria Gagliardo-Silver

July 7, 2019
- The family of an American college student who died after he was held prisoner in North Korea, has filed a claim on cargo ship that was seized from the country by U.S. authorities.

Otto Warmbier was accused of theft on a visit to the secretive communist state in January 2016 and jailed for almost a-year-and-a-half.


Warmbier pleads during a press conference in Pyongyang beneath portraits of the late Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.

Photo by Alamy

When he was released back to the U.S. in June 2017 he was in a vegetative state. He was blind and deaf, and had sustained severe brain damage. He died later that month.

Last December, a U.S. federal judge awarded his family more than $500m (£399) in damages in a wrongful death suit against the North Korean government.

In an attempt to retrieve some those damages, his family have now filed a claim against the seized ship called the "Wise Honest".

North Korea's second largest merchant ship, was carrying coal for sale.

Both American authorities and the United Nations have suggested that country uses the profits to fund its nuclear and ballistic missile program.

The U.S. Justice Department called the seizure of the ship part of a “maximum pressure” campaign against the hostile nation.

“This sanctions-busting ship is now out of service,” said Assistant Attorney General John Demers at the time of seizure. Mr Demers heads the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

“We are deeply committed to the role the Justice Department plays in applying maximum pressure to the North Korean regime to cease its belligerence.”

The pariah state did not involve itself in the Wambier lawsuit, leaving the family to “chase down the assets of North Korea to recover what they can for the torture and death of their son at the hands of North Korea’s dictator, who with “his cronies, show(s) no regard for human life,”” according to a court filing.

After making the claim against the ship, his parents Fred and Cindy Warmbier said: “We are committed to holding North Korea accountable for the death of our son Otto, and will work tirelessly to seize North Korean assets wherever they may be found."


Fred and Cindy Warmbier in their home in Wyoming, Ohio, during their son Otto’s incarceration.

Photo by The Washington Post