Diet targets North Korean ships via oil-spill insurance law

The Diet enacted a law Wednesday requiring shipowners to have insurance for oil-spill damage, a measure that may effectively bar access to Japanese ports by North Korean ships, most of which have no such coverage.

The Law on Liability for Ship Oil Pollution Damage, passed by the House of Councilors, was conceived following a 2002 accident in which a North Korean freighter ran aground off Ibaraki Prefecture, was abandoned and eventually broke up, causing oil pollution damage.

The law will take effect next March 1, empowering the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry to bar uninsured ships from entering Japanese ports and to seek compensation for damage caused by leaked oil as well as for the cost of removing wrecks.

The law, a revised version of the existing Law on Liability for Oil Pollution Damage, expands the scope of insurance coverage obligation to include ships of 100 tons or more that want to enter Japanese waters. Previously, the obligation was limited to tankers.

A transport ministry survey in 2002 found that 73 percent of all the ships that entered Japanese ports were insured. But only 2.8 percent of visiting North Korean ships had insurance, the lowest rate for any nation.

The Upper House also enacted revisions to the Marine Pollution Prevention Law, tightening regulations on nitrogen oxide and other emissions from ship engines. They are expected to take effect in fiscal 2005.

The 3,144-ton North Korean freighter Chil Song ran aground in December 2002, leading to a fuel spill. The government and local authorities have spent some 650 million yen to remove the wreck and on cleanup operations.

Kim seen as threat

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) U.S. President George W. Bush said in his speech Tuesday night that he and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi share the view that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is a threat.