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Port calls by North Korean ships fell sharply in March after a revised law requiring vessels be insured against oil pollution took effect on March 1.

Officials of the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry said Tuesday that North Korean ships made 29 calls in March, down from 115 the previous year. Overall port calls by foreign ships last month reached 9,120, compared with 9,820 the year before.

The revised law effectively serves as an economic sanction on North Korea.

The figures show the oil pollution law is shutting out North Korean ships, many of which import “asari” clams and snow crabs to Japan. It would also mean that North Korean ships are losing one of their main methods for acquiring foreign currency.

While the revised law on liability coverage for oil pollution damage does not target a specific nation, government officials had indicated that it would deal a blow to North Korea because most of its ships do not qualify to enter Japanese ports.

According to the revised oil pollution law, ships 100 tons or heavier entering Japanese ports will have to be covered by insurance to pay for any damage caused by shipwrecks in coastal waters on marine products and port facilities as well as the loss of human life. The lowest premium for a 100-ton ship is about 100 million yen.

As of April 1, the transport ministry issued certificates to 17 North Korean ships carrying insurance, allowing them to enter Japanese ports.

The ministry has inspected 778 ships as of Sunday and issued 23 warnings to ships that were not insured or did not have certificates with them. The ministry refused to disclose how many were North Korean ships. No arrests have been made, the ministry said.

Calls to impose sanctions, including banning cash remittances to the North, increased after Tokyo announced that DNA tests showed the cremated remains Pyongyang claimed were those of abductee Megumi Yokota belonged to somebody else.

Yokota was kidnapped to the North in 1977 and, according to Pyongyang, killed herself there in 1994.

Japan was trapped between public voices to impose sanctions and pressure from the United States not to, due to fears it might hinder efforts to persuade North Korea to return to six-way talks on ending its nuclear threat.

Many Foreign Ministry officials considered the law convenient as it would not directly target North Korea but would effectively act as economic sanctions on Pyongyang.

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