Report: North Korean Vessel Sank, Killing 90

North Korean vessel (JonPRC / CC BY 2.0)

Published Jun 4, 2024 8:12 PM by The Maritime Executive

South Korean intelligence agencies believe that a North Korean transport sank last month, killing 90 out of 130 personnel on board. 

News outlet TV Chosun reports that a "very large ship" ferrying troops went down on a river. The personnel were bound for work on a fortification project along the border with Gangwon Province, on the eastern side of the country. The vessel was overloaded, intelligence sources told Chosun; its name was not identified. 

The outlet reported that the incident prompted unease within the North Korean military establishment, and that Pyongyang's unusual actions along the border zone - like a recent decision to fly 1,000 bags of trash across the demilitarized zone aboard unmanned balloons - could be related to an attempt to redirect attention on an external enemy. 

"Even if you try to hide it, it is bound to become known. In that case, one of the things North Korea always does is create external tension to unite internally," said Park Won-gon, a professor of North Korean studies at Ewha University, speaking to TV Chosun. 

No reports of the incident have been published by North Korea, and the account could not be confirmed. TV Chosun has previously reported on intelligence information that the South Korean government later acknowledged in public.

North Korea's fleet is aging, and Western sanctions have made it harder to get parts and repairs for the regime's vessels. The United States government prohibits trade and other transactions with North Korea, and the UN Security Council has imposed strict limits on North Korean commerce (often ignored by China and Russia). In 2021, the North Korean cargo ship Cheongbong went down off Shimane, Japan with a cargo of iron; all personnel were rescued by a passing North Korean tanker. 

Top image: North Korean vessel (JonPRC / CC BY 2.0)