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The North Korean ship Man Gyong Bong-92, believed to be a key conduit for Pyongyang espionage activities, carried a political officer known as a “second captain” to deliver clandestine orders when the vessel called at Japan, sources said Thursday.

The second skipper, also called an “instruction” or “political” captain, was apparently not involved in navigation but made regular trips to Japan aboard the 9,672-ton vessel, which plies the Sea of Japan between North Korea’s Wonsan and Niigata.

According to Japanese police, the ship was used to transmit espionage orders to a 72-year-old North Korean agent based in Japan.

The sources said the agent received orders from the political officer, including to set up clandestine political organizations in South Korea and recruit North Korean sympathizers.

The agent, a former senior official of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryun), has confessed to being a spy and receiving orders from Pyongyang as a point of contact for the North’s spy network in Japan.

Whenever the agent was unable to make it to the ship, orders were delivered to the Niigata office of Chongryun to be collected later. The documents were labeled “captain’s consignment,” as customs inspections on parcels in that category were less strict, the sources said.

The agent often visited the ship if a senior official of North Korea’s “unification warfare department” was the second captain, the sources said.

The onboard spy master was known as the political captain if from North Korea’s “external liaison department,” a separate spy agency.

Aside from handling spies, the second captain provided the crew ideological training and supervision, the sources said.

The National Police Agency has been investigating the spy ring involving the ship.

Apart from the second captain, there were between five and 10 officials of the unification warfare department regularly on board the ship to coordinate espionage activities, police sources said.

The Man Gyong Bong-92 was believed the conduit through which Pyongyang conveyed its orders for the 1974 assassination attempt on then South Korean President Park Chung Hee in Seoul, and other activities involving illegal remittances to North Korea and imports of contraband materials.

More abductions?

A woman whose sister, nephew and niece disappeared in 1973 filed a criminal complaint Thursday in Tokyo, alleging her sister was slain and the children abducted by North Korean agents.

The complaint was filed by Keiko Toriumi with the Metropolitan Police Department against unidentified suspects.

According to the complaint, Hideko Watanabe, who lived in Obihiro, Hokkaido, visited Tokyo with her 6-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son in 1973 after she lost contact with her husband, a permanent Korean resident of Japan who worked for the now-defunct Universe Trading in Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo.

Watanabe, who was 32 at the time, and her children remain missing.

She had suspected that her husband, Ko Dae Ki, was a North Korean agent because he listened to shortwave radio programs aired from Pyongyang late at night and early in the morning, Toriumi said.

She is alleging that her sister was detained at an apartment in Meguro Ward and killed around December 1973 by North Korean agents posing as employees of the trading house, and her children were abducted. She suggests they may have acted out of fear that their spying activities would be discovered.

Japanese authorities suspect that senior officials of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryun), a pro-Pyongyang group, were involved in the establishment of Universe Trading, and that it was used for clandestine North Korean activities.

When one of the Japanese Red Army Faction fugitives wanted in the 1970 hijacking of a Japan Airlines jet to Pyongyang was arrested in 1988, a married couple who worked for the trading company were also arrested on suspicion of helping the fugitive enter Japan from North Korea.

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