• Kyodo

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The North Korean ferry Mangyongbong-92 will arrive Thursday at Niigata port about four hours later than scheduled.

The ferry was originally scheduled to arrive at 8 a.m., Niigata Prefectural Government officials said Wednesday.

The officials said they were notified by the ship’s agent.

The Mangyongbong-92 left North Korea’s Wonsan port at 5 a.m. Wednesday after reportedly fixing five minor safety problems found during checks during its visit to Niigata last week.

The Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry’s bureau in charge of safety inspections at Niigata port approved a report on the repairs at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday. They received the fax at 10:30 p.m.

The ship’s agent applied Tuesday to the prefecture for the use of a pier. The application said the ferry would enter the port at 8 a.m. Thursday and dock at the pier at 8:45 a.m.

Bureau officials said Port State Control inspections will be carried out after the ferry docks at the pier. Niigata authorities, including Niigata Mayor Akira Shinoda, had demanded that the checks be done at sea before the ferry is permitted to enter the port.

On Aug. 26, when the Mangyongbong-92 departed from Niigata after its last port call there, Land, Infrastructure and Transport Minister Chikage Ogi said, “At its next port entry, we will also consider inspections at sea.”

On Tuesday, Ogi said the inspections will be done after the ship docks.

Japanese investigative authorities suspect that the ferry has been used by North Korea for espionage and carrying illicit freight.

The ship operates between North Korea’s Wonsan and Niigata on an irregular basis, carrying cargo and passengers. Its previous port call at Niigata was Aug. 25, after a seven-month hiatus caused by strained bilateral relations, including a crackdown on North Korean vessels.

Call for tough response

Staff report

Supporters of families of Japanese kidnapped by North Korea petitioned the transport ministry Wednesday to be tough with North Korean ships entering the country.

They met with Makoto Washizu, director general of the ministry’s Maritime Bureau, and asked why the ministry accepted and approved late-arriving documents from the Mangyongbong-92’s operator the previous evening.

The documents state that all of the ferry’s shortcomings identified when the vessel made a port call on Aug. 25 have been corrected. The ship is to make another port call at Niigata on Thursday.

Washizu was quoted as saying the ministry facilitated the inspection of the documents because the ship’s operator said it intended to submit the papers earlier in the day, and the ministry cannot discriminate against North Korean ships.