A North Korean passenger ferry has docked in Russia’s far-eastern port of Vladivostok for the first time.
The vessel, called the Mangyongbong, will sail once a week to the port city and will also carry cargo. North Korea is under wide-ranging UN sanctions.
The ferry service comes amid heightened tension between North Korea and the US over Pyongyang’s missile tests and efforts to develop a nuclear arsenal.
A Chinese tour operator sent some staff on the inaugural voyage.
The ferry has a restaurant, bars and a karaoke room. Chinese tourists are expected to ‘use the service to visit communist North Korea and Russia.’
A Russian firm, InvestStroiTrest, is operating the ferry from the North Korean port of Rajin. The firm runs an import/export business at Rajin, handling freight shipping as far as Vietnam and Thailand.
In 2015 the BBC’s Stephen Sackur visited Vladivostok and found many North Koreans employed on building sites, earning much-needed cash for the isolated communist regime in Pyongyang.
Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida has voiced concern to Russia about the new ferry service, noting the UN sanctions imposed on North Korea because of its nuclear programme.
Russia’s close economic links with North Korea date back to the Cold War, when they were ideological allies hostile to the West.
Russia’s government says “the Mangyongbong will carry essential goods and other cargo, which will undergo strict control at Russian customs”.
The Mangyongbong was built in 1971 and modernised last year. It can carry up to 200 passengers and about 1,500 tonnes of cargo.