NIIGATA – The North Korean ferry Mangyongbong-92 is scheduled to arrive Thursday for a another visit to Niigata port, prefectural officials said Tuesday.
But the Niigata Prefectural Government could refuse permission for the port call under an ordinance revised in July if the transport ministry finds fault with documents to be submitted in advance by the ship’s operator, the officials said.
The Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry has arranged for officials to be on duty around the clock so they can examine the documents as soon as they are faxed by the operator, ministry officials said.
The operator is required to submit documents reporting that minor safety problems discovered when the ship called on Aug. 25 have been fixed.
The Mangyongbong-92 is the subject of intense Japanese scrutiny, with police alleging it has been used in espionage and illicit trading. The ship makes irregular runs between Wonsan and Niigata, carrying cargo and passengers who are mostly affiliated with the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryun), a group that supports Pyongyang.
The ship is scheduled to arrive at 8 a.m. and dock at 8:45 a.m. with around 130 passengers and 50 tons of cargo, and to leave the port at 10 a.m. Friday with some 210 passengers and 100 tons of cargo.
If it is allowed to enter port, the ship will again face a security check to establish whether it meets international safety standards, the ministry officials said.
During the last port call, the transport ministry conducted its first “port state control” safety inspection in a decade and found five problems on the ferry, of which the crew managed to fix only one.
But the government allowed the ferry to leave port the following day on condition it would deal with the remaining problems by the next time it calls.
The ship lacked air exhaust ducts in the galley, evacuation route signs, radio equipment for communication with aircraft and functioning fire extinguishers in the engine room, according to the ministry.
The ferry also faced a major protest rally staged by families of Japanese abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s and their supporters, as well as a protest march by rightist groups in loudspeaker trucks.
The abductees’ families and supporters demanded that North Korea allow the children of the five abductees repatriated last October, and the husband of one of the five, to come to Japan for family reunions.
Meanwhile, prior to the ferry’s call, Chongryun was believed to have been the target of threats by rightwing extremists. Explosive devices were found near a Chongryun-linked bank in Fukuoka and Chongryun’s Fukuoka office, and a shot was fired at the bank’s headquarters in Okayama late Aug. 23.
The incidents were the latest in a string of similar threats Chongryun has experienced since November.