North Korean Ferry Has a Long Troubled History

Ben Cho, Feb. 6, 2018, 9:43 a.m.

The 9,700-ton Mangyongbong-92 went into operation in 1992 and is named for a hill in Pyongyang near in the birthplace of nation founder Kim Il-sung. The year it was built was Kim Il-sung's 80th birthday, and the money came from ethnic North Koreans in Japan. It has a capacity for around 350 passengers.

Initially the ship ferried goods and money from ethnic North Koreans in Niigata Prefecture to the North's Wonsan as well as shipping North Korean spies to and from Japan.

Japan banned the ship from docking in its ports after the North tested a long-range missile in 2006. That put an end to lucrative North Korean exports to Japan, and Pyongyang was sufficiently upset to put the removal of the entry ban at the top of a wish list during negotiations with Japan in 2014 over the issue of Japanese citizens abducted by the North. Tokyo refused.

The ship also carried around 350 North Korean cheerleaders to South Korea during the Asian Games in Busan in September 2002. At the time, it docked in Busan for 17 days and served as their accommodation.

North Korea also wanted to use it to bring its athletes and cheerleaders to the Asian Games in Incheon in 2014, but the plans fell through.

The Magyongbong-92's predecessor is the 3,500-ton Mangyongbong, which was built in 1971 to ferry passengers and goods to and from Japan. There were suspicions in Japan that North Korean agents took kidnapped Japanese citizens to the North aboard the ship.

Last year it was refused entry to a Russian port on suspicion that it was carrying goods that are banned under UN Security Council sanctions.

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