A North Korean ship reputed for smuggling left Niigata, Japan on August 26 after its first port call in seven months.
The ship's trips to Japan had been suspended since January reflecting the chilling of Japan-North Korean relationship over abduction issues. The renewed visits came in advance of the 6-nation talks in Beijing on North Korea's nuclear weapons programs later this week.
Mangyongbong-92 is a ferry carrying passengers and cargo between North Korea and Japan, but it has long been suspected of facilitating spy operations around Japan as well as the smuggling of arms, illicit drugs and money.
On this trip, Japanese North Korean experts said Mangyongbong-92 had another secret mission Ñ procuring delicacies from Japan for Kim Jong Il.
"It is certain that North Korea is facing a shortage of goods," according to a report in the September issue of the monthly magazine Themis.
"Especially fuels and foods consumed by Kim Jongil and other North Korean regime leaders are running out and [they] are panicking. There will be an anniversary of the founding of the nation on September 9 and an anniversary of the founding of the Korean Workers Party on October 10, and a great deal of goods for the leaders on the occasions are needed. Therefore, they need to ship a large amount of goods by the Mangyongbong."
"Kim Jongil have farmers produce vegetables and fruits that are called 'Loyalty-No.1" exclusively for his consumption," a Japanese government official interviewed by the magazine said.
"His real favorite delicacy is a high-quality melon. High-quality melons cannot be produced in North Korea, so they are shipped from Japan. The Mangyongbong-92 is the only North Korean ship equipped with a refrigeration room that can preserve them. Orders for melons are placed with a certain dealer five days in advance, so the movement of the Mangyongbong-92 can be very much predicted in advance. Kim Jongil is also crazy about sushi and he has top-quality fatty tuna, sea urchin and other sushi materials procured."
According to the magazine, there are more than 300 North Korean ships making port calls in Japan. Altogether, North Korean ships make more than 1,400 port calls per year at the Japanese port.
The Mangyongbong-92 was scheduled to make a port call in June, but North Korea canceled the visit ostensibly because of security problems at the Japanese port.
However, a Japanese law enforcement official said the North Koreans feared Japanese safety inspections that can expose military, sonar and other types of equipment on the ship that can be used for spying operation.
The ship left North Korean port of Wonsan on August 23 and arrived at Niigata Port in northern Japan on August 25. The ship was scheduled to leave Niigata with 200 passengers in the morning of the next day. But Japanese Transportation Ministry officials announced the night before that it was not safe to sail due to five safety code violations including lack of proper emergency-exit signs.
The Transport Ministry informed the ship's captain that it would be allowed to leave if four safety code violations were remedied. By mid-afternoon of August 26, about 35 inspectors in helmets and jumpsuits had boarded the ship to make a thorough inspection. Only after the inspectors certified that four violations were remedied, was the ship allowed to depart.