TOYAMA — A North Korean freighter left a Japanese port on Friday, ending a two-week standoff with local authorities who refused to let it dock on the grounds the vessel failed to meet safety standards.
The dispute was resolved around noon after the 874-ton Suyangsan took on fuel provided by the Toyama Prefectural Government and left Toyama port for the Chinese port of Dandong.
Japanese authorities have recently been cracking down on North Korean ships entering ports through stepped-up security inspections. The campaign comes in the wake of allegations that the Mangyongbong-92, a North Korean ferry, was involved in espionage the illegal drug trade.
The Suyangsan, with 16 crew members aboard and carrying some 1,000 tons of magnesite, had been anchored about 2 km off the port since June 12. That’s when the prefectural government, citing the freighter’s failure to meet safety requirements, refused to allow the ship to make a port call and be refueled.
The Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry determined that the ship’s owners have not corrected the safety problems, which included concerns over lifeboats, raised by Japanese maritime inspectors in April.
Despite repeated requests from the captain, the prefectural government refused to allow the vessel to dock. The Toyama government argued that the freighter could end up occupying the quay for an extended period if it was again found to be in breach of international safety requirements, thereby disrupting the functions of the port.
On Thursday, a contract for refueling was signed between the ship’s agent in Tokyo and a Toyama-based marine transport company, prefectural officials said.
At 6 a.m. Friday, the vessel got under way for a 10 km journey to Toyama New Port to take on fuel, with coast guard patrol boats keeping watch nearby.
Port officials carried out a series of checks before allowing the freighter to anchor off the port, where a vessel owned by the Toyama fisheries cooperative started the refueling procedure around 9 a.m.
The refueling operation took about an hour, the officials said, with the vessel also taking on water and food.
Following the ship’s departure, transport minister Chikage Ogi reiterated her ministry’s intention to keep a close watch on North Korean vessels visiting Japan.
“We’ll continue to carry out port examinations (to ensure the safety of the ships) when they make port calls and demand that all ships are covered by (protection and indemnity) insurance beforehand,” Ogi said after Friday’s Cabinet meeting.
The ministry is planning to introduce to the next Diet session a bill that would bar ships not covered by PI insurance from Japanese ports.
The insurance is designed to compensate for losses in the event insured ships cause damage to third parties, such as to port facilities, oil leaks or the ships running aground.
Few North Korean ships are covered by such third-party insurance, while some have recently caused damage — both financial and physical — to port authorities and local people after running aground along the Japanese coast.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.