Sustained Presence of North Korean Ships in Yalu River Raises Eyebrows

nk-yalu-boat-april-2013.jpg A North Korean patrol boat cruises the Yalu River between Sinuiju, North Korea and Dandong, China, April 10, 2013.

Several North Korean flagged ships anchored for more than six months in the middle of the Yalu River have drawn suspicion from residents across the waterway in China who have begun to speculate over the purpose of the vessels.

North Korean ships often ply the Yalu but do not anchor for such a long period.

The ships have even drawn the attention of foreign tourists, sources in China’s Dandong city, located across the river from Sinuiju in North Korea, told RFA’s Korean Service.

“The most popular boats are the Keumgang 2, the Keumgang 5, and a ship bearing a reconstructed shipping container box that reminds people of a two-story, multiunit home on its deck,” a resident of Dandong said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Another resident of Dandong said that among speculations over the sustained presence of the ships is that they have been decommissioned because of international sanctions leveled at North Korea for its illicit nuclear and missile tests.

“There is a rumor going around that North Korea has anchored the boats for the long-term because they can no longer be operated due to sanctions from the U.N. and the international community,” he said.

But he said the claim was unlikely as the North could have anchored the boats at a port, such as Nampo on its northwest coast.

 A third Dandong local said he had heard that two of the ships were being held by China for smuggling goods across the border.

“I heard that the Keumgang 2 and 5 were both smuggling goods and were caught by the Chinese authorities and brought here by force,” he said.

“I also heard that the Chinese coast guards imposed a mammoth fine of U.S. $6 million, but the ship captains couldn’t pay, so they are being detained here.”

Another theory specific to the ship with the container box installed on its deck is that it is intended to send waves to disrupt illegal phone calls being made in North Korea with Chinese cell phones on Chinese networks along the border.

As time passes with no official explanation given as to why the ships have remained at anchor, suspicions are growing, the sources said.

The Keumgang 2 is known to have once entered northeastern South Korea’s Sokcho Harbor, carrying 253 tons of North Korean zinc, in January 2010.

China is impoverished North Korea's main diplomatic and economic ally, but has signaled unusual displeasure with the North after it recently carried out missile launches and a nuclear test, and issued various threats despite Beijing's protests.

In March, China backed tough U.N. sanctions against the hard-line communist neighbor for its weapons tests.

Reported by Joon-ho Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Min-Kyung Kang. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.


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