May 18 (UPI) — A North Korea cargo-passenger ferry that once traveled between Japan and North Korea has resumed service on a new route that travels to Russia, one of Pyongyang’s principle economic partners.
The Man Gyong Bong 92 left the North Korean port of Rajin on Wednesday evening with about 40 passengers on a trial run. It arrived in Vladivostok on Thursday at 8 a.m., Russia’s state-run Tass news agency reported.
Passengers included chief executives of Chinese travel agencies interested in expanding their businesses despite international sanctions, Yonhap reported.
Mikhail Khmel, deputy director of InvestStroiTrest, the joint operator of the Man Gyong Bong, said Chinese interest is not limited to tourism.
“Chinese travel agencies are already introducing tourist itineraries that use our passenger service,” Khmel said. “Cargo will also move from China through North Korea, or from Russia through North Korea.”
Before the trial run this week, the North Korean ferry was in a rusted state and docked at Rajin port.
The launch of the route comes at a time when many North Korean merchant ships are badly in need of repair.
The Port State Control Committee of the Asia-Pacific published 2016 data on North Korea merchant ships that indicate the vessels on average were found to have eight safety issues per ship.
North Korea-owned merchant ships were frequently seized at ports in line with heavier United Nations Security Council sanctions adopted last year.
A total of 275 North Korean ships were inspected at Asian ports, and the total number of ship defects was 2,278, the fourth-highest number of defects reported, Voice of America reported Thursday.
Despite sanctions, North Korea-owned ships continue to be active across the region.
South Korean news service News 1 reported a cargo ship of Mongolian nationality that may be North Korea-owned was seen passing through South Korean territorial waters on Wednesday.