On Wednesday night, the Japan Coast Guard rescued the crew of the North Korean freighter Chong Gen from waters off of Fukue Island, about 60 nm west of Nagasaki.
The 1991-built geared bulker was carrying rice around the Korean peninsula from Nampo to Wongsan, but at some point during the first half of the voyage she began to flood. Her master broadcast a distress signal, and as she began to founder her crew escaped by lifeboat. The Japan Coast Guard's Seventh Regional Headquarters dispatched a patrol boat to the scene and rescued the 26 crewmembers. No fatalities or injuries were reported, but the Chong Gen ultimately sank early Thursday morning.
“We are investigating the cause of the accident by interviewing [the crew] on our patrol ship offshore,” a Japan Coast Guard spokesman said, speaking to Japan Times. Officials believe the sinking is an ordinary marine casualty, without added complications arising from its North Korean ownership.
The spokesman did not have details on the repatriation of the crew, as Japan and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations. However, CNN later reported that the survivors have been transferred to a North Korean tanker, which will return them to the DPRK.
The Chong Gen (or Rhong Fen) was the sole vessel owned and operated by Korea Ryonhwan Shipping, based in Pyongyang. The firm is not included in UN Security Council sanctions against North Korean shipping companies, and the Chong Gen was not on the UNSC's North Korean vessel blacklist. While she had no known ties to Pyongyang’s weapons smuggling program, she did have an inspection history of safety deficiencies, and was detained at Rizhao, China in October for problems with water- and weathertightness.