COAST GUARD TO STEP UP CHECKS

All eyes on North Korean ferry

The Japan Coast Guard will inspect a North Korean ferry on both its arrival at Niigata port and its departure to prevent smuggling, coast guard officials said Thursday.

The coast guard has up to now only carried out onboard inspections of the Man Gyong Bong-92 when it enters the port.

The stepped-up inspection policy follows last week’s congressional testimony in Washington by a North Korean defector who said he was a former missile scientist and alleged that over 90 percent of the parts for North Korea’s ballistic missiles had come from Japan and that the ship was used in the smuggling.

The vessel is due to make its first port call in five months at Niigata on June 9.

Japanese intelligence authorities also allege that the ship has been involved in espionage and other clandestine activities.

The coast guard said it is considering jointly acting with customs authorities to ask the ship’s captain to allow inspectors to enter and search the crew and passenger quarters.

The Japan Coast Guard Law authorizes coast guard officers to inspect a vessel on matters relevant to the ship, its cargo and its voyage when deemed necessary. But this law would not validate searches of the crew or passenger cabins.

The coast guard, customs officials, immigration authorities and police have previously joined forces to inspect the ferry, enforce the ban on crew members coming ashore, check the identity of visitors to the ship and X-ray packages, but they all plan to boost their manpower, according to officials.

The ship is scheduled to make 10 Niigata port calls through September, according to the Niigata Prefectural Government, which said it was given the information by the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryun), a group the defector claimed was involved in the ship’s smuggling operations.

The Man Gyong Bong-92 travels irregularly between North Korea’s Wonsan port and Niigata. It transports goods and passengers, mostly Korean permanent residents in Japan visiting North Korea. The last time the ferry visited Niigata was in mid-January.

In a related move, vice transport minister Toshiki Aoyama said the same day that the ministry plans to enforce “port state control” over the ferry.

It will be the first time for the government to conduct a PSC inspection on the North Korean ship since 1993.

Later in the day, the transport minister notified North Korean authorities of its plan.

Citing the decrepit state of the ship, Aoyama said the inspection will ostensibly be carried out to examine whether the vessel ship meets safety standards based on the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea.

“We’re going to enforce port state control to see whether the ship is equipped with a lifesaving apparatus, emergency supplies, navigational charts, navigational radars and communications systems,” Aoyama said.