19 May 2017

Russia and North Korea Open New Freight and Passenger Ferry Service  

Forty Six Year Old RoPax Ship Brought into Service for Tourists and Cargo

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Shipping News Feature RUSSIA – NORTH KOREA – A new cargo/passenger ferry service linking the North Korean port of Rajin and the Far Eastern Russian port of Vladivostok, completed its first trip on May 18, marking the start of a new weekly service aboard the recently renovated North Korean flagged Man Gyoung Bong, a RoPax vessel which is capable of carrying around 200 passengers and holding up to 1,500 tonnes of different types of freight.

The Man Gyong Bong was built in the ‘hermit kingdom’ in 1971 and was last year chartered by RosKor and is owned by the Russian company InvestStroyTrest. She underwent technical upgrading and special retrofit to ensure ability and compliance for her new tasks. Three cargo holds have space enough for 1,500 tonnes of cargo, 24 TEU (including 16 refrigerated containers), and vehicles, with the crew consisting fully of North Korean nationals.

The ship deployed on the route has a chequered history. She had her maiden voyage in September 1971 after Japan eased restrictions on visits to North Korea by Zainichi Koreans. It ran a ferry service between North Korea and Japan until it was replaced by the Man Gyong Bong 92 in 1992 after which a serious deterioration in relations between the two ended services.

Now, with Russia and China practically the only states prepared to deal with North Korea, travel companies from the two countries are attempting to establish tourist links according to various press releases. The service takes 9 hours, a 13 hour improvement on the overland route for trucks, and the combination of freight and tourists, particularly curious Chinese travellers, may play its small part in opening up the closely guarded country.

Human rights groups have already spoken out against the service, commenting that it will make another possible route through which Russia may deport North Korean asylum seekers with fears of imprisonment and execution.

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