The International Maritime Organization has started creating a searchable database that will show ships subject to U.N. sanctions, as part of efforts to crack down on illicit North Korean trade, people with knowledge of the matter said Saturday.

The database, containing information on those ships, such as their names and numbers to be given by the U.N. specialized agency, will be used by its some 170 member counties.

(Supplied photo taken March 20, 2019, shows a North Korean tanker, left, and a vessel of unknown nationality suspected of engaging in illicit ship-to-ship transfer of goods in the East China Sea.)[Photo courtesy of Japanese Defense Ministry]

The project comes as the international community still struggles to prevent North Korea from engaging in ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products and other goods, a practice banned by U.N. resolutions.

Many of the difficulties have arisen from fraudulent registries. The IMO's Legal Committee agreed in March that it will cooperate with the U.N. Security Council to create a comprehensive database of vessels that have connections with countries facing international sanctions, including North Korea and Iran.

The database will be completed possibly in 2021.