Japan may ban future port calls by a North Korean ship scheduled to visit Niigata next week if the vessel fails to pass strict safety checks set by the government, Shinzo Abe, deputy chief Cabinet secretary, indicated Tuesday.

Abe was speaking with Niigata Mayor Akira Shinoda, who visited Tokyo in an effort to persuade the national government to stop a port call by the Man Gyong Bon-92 scheduled for Monday.

“If we conduct safety inspections, we will surely find defects,” Shinoda quoted Abe as telling him.

“To fulfill the standards as a passenger ship, it will cost more than several hundred million yen and I believe North Korea will not be able to bear that cost.”

More than 1,100 police and government officials will be dispatched to monitor and inspect the ship, which is scheduled to stay at Niigata port until Tuesday.

The government plans to enforce “port state control” over the vessel, with the inspections aimed at gauging whether its safety standards are in line with international laws.

It is alleged that the 9,672-ton passenger-cargo ferry has been involved in illegal transportation of materials with military potential to North Korea, illegal cash remittances and espionage activities.

Shinoda said he told Abe that a port call by the Man Gyong Bong-92, which makes irregular trips between North Korea’s Wonsan and Niigata, “is against the will of residents who are angered by the abduction of Megumi Yokota.”

Yokota was abducted by North Korean agents from Niigata in 1977 at age 13. Pyongyang has also admitted abducting 12 other Japanese, five of whom were repatriated in October.

With tension mounting between Japan and North Korea over Pyongyang’s suspected nuclear weapons program and the abductions issue, the ship’s port calls have become a sensitive issue.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has said the government is ready to crack down on illegal activities involving the North, with which Japan has no diplomatic ties.

Earlier Tuesday, a Tokyo-based oil company that has supplied the Man Gyong Bong-92 with fuel said it will discontinue this supply arrangement.

“We cannot make a delivery to a ship accused of conducting illegal activities,” a company official said, requesting anonymity for both himself and the company.

The company has supplied the vessel with some 200 kiloliters of fuel oil during previous visits.

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