KYOTO – Japan ordered a North Korean freighter Tuesday set to carry goods to the North — in place of a North Korean ferry at the center of arms and espionage allegations — not to leave port.
The 298-ton freighter Namsan 3, which arrived at Maizuru port in Kyoto Prefecture at around 7:30 a.m. with 16 crew members, was to sail again in the afternoon.
But a special government probe concluded that the vessel must be detained in the Sea of Japan port because it does not have a marine chart of the surrounding area, local transport bureau officials said.
They said an illegal hole found in the bulkhead of the freighter’s bow was among other problems, and that the vessel must remain in port until the problems are fixed.
If the ship ignores the order and leaves, the authorities are legally empowered to stop it, they added.
Earlier in the day, regional customs and transport authorities inspected the Namsan 3 before it loaded some of the cargo originally intended for a controversial North Korean ferry.
The freighter was to carry about 3 tons of cargo initially meant to be transported by the Man Gyong Bong-92, which canceled a visit Monday to Niigata after the government vowed to beef up inspections amid allegations the vessel has been used for illicit activities.
The Man Gyong Bong is suspected of being involved in drug-trafficking, espionage, smuggling of missile parts and illegal money remittances.
At 9 a.m. Tuesday, officials from the Kinki Regional Transport Bureau, the 8th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters, Osaka Customs and the Osaka Immigration Bureau boarded the Namsan 3 for a joint inspection.
Officials said it was the first time such bodies conducted a probe together.
According to the coast guard office in Maizuru and a local harbor loading company, the cargo of the Namsan 3 was categorized as “sundries” and was being shipped at the request of a trading firm based in the city of Osaka.
Trucks carrying the cargo had already cleared customs began arriving at the pier at around 10:30 a.m.
North Korean vessels made 334 port calls at Maizuru port last year, according to Osaka customs officials.
In Tokyo, transport minister Chikage Ogi said the government will conduct strict inspections of other North Korean ships entering Japanese ports.
“We don’t know if port calls by North Korean ships will increase, but we would like to have a report on whether the number (of inspectors) is insufficient,” she said.
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