NIIGATA – The controversial North Korean ferry Mangyongbong-92 docked at Niigata port’s central pier at 1:15 p.m. Thursday amid tight security by the Japan Coast Guard and Niigata Prefectural Police.
Repeating scenes from the Mangyongbong’s previous port call Aug. 25, Japanese authorities launched a thorough inspection of the 9,672-ton ferry shortly after it arrived — again to a mixture of protests and cheers.
Port State Control inspections by the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry confirmed that the four minor safety infractions found during the ship’s last visit have been rectified. Thus, the vessel is free to leave as scheduled on Friday.
The Japan Coast Guard, customs and immigration authorities also searched the ship but found nothing amiss, officials said.
A total of 1,600 police and officials from other government agencies were deployed in Niigata for the ship’s visit, about 350 fewer than the last visit.
There were also fewer rightwing groups holding anti-North Korean demonstrations this time around.
A prefectural government official who had been deployed since 6 a.m. Thursday to keep watch asked a reporter, “How many more times are we going to repeat this?”
Japanese authorities allege North Korea has used the ferry, which runs between North Korea’s Wonsan and Niigata on an irregular basis, for espionage and transporting illicit freight.
Relatives and supporters of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea decades ago again gathered at the pier and spoke to the media.
“We are not against the port call itself. We are demanding that North Korea return all our families, all of the abduction victims,” said Hidekazu Hasuike, whose son Kaoru came back to Japan in October for the first time after being kidnapped to North Korea in 1978. North Korea has denied Japan’s request that Kaoru’s North Korean-born children be sent to Japan.
Pro-Pyongyang Korean residents of Japan welcomed the arrival of Mangyongbong with cheers and songs.
“Why does Japan treat that ship with such hostility, even though it may not like (North Korea)? Such a massive inspection is a waste of taxpayers’ money,” said a 60-year-old Korean man who identified himself as a senior member of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryun).
The Niigata Prefectural Government signed an indemnity contract with the Tokyo-based agent of the Mangyongbong in the morning and gave permission for the use of the port at 8:45 a.m. It is rare for permission for port entry to be granted just before a ship’s arrival.
Japan had ordered the ship to improve four items that failed to meet international safety standards during last week’s checks, which were conducted on the ship for the first time in a decade.
The flaws were a lack of evacuation route signs, radio equipment for communications with aircraft and functioning portable fire-extinguishers, as well as defects in an exhaust duct in the galley.
TV newsman dies
NIIGATA (Kyodo) A television director covering Thursday’s port call by the North Korean ferry Mangyongbong-92 died of unknown causes, police said.
Masayuki Takaguchi, 29, who worked for an affiliate of Niigata Sogo Television, was found on the ground near a broadcast vehicle at the port.