The USS Pueblo, a U.S. naval research ship that was famously captured by North Korea in 1968, has disappeared from its mooring in downtown Pyongyang.
Converted by North Korean authorities into a tourist spot to showcase its citizens the threat posed by the U.S., the disappearance of the vessel has many observers scratching their heads to explain what may have happened.
North Korea tour operator Koryo Tours today reported the disappearance of the boat on their Facebook page following the return of staff from a recent trip.
While unable to photograph the disappearance of what North Korea has long alleged to be an American spy-ship, Koryo did post a Photoshop mock up of what they saw.
Since Koryo reported the development today, satellite specialist Curtis Melvin has used Google maps imagery to show that the vessel was nevertheless present on the Taedong river just weeks ago, when the last freely accessible satellite pictures of the area was taken.
Melvin suggests the ship could have been moved to Pyongyang’s Fatherland Liberation War Museum, a regular tourist spot for both foreign and local visitors looking to learn about the background of the Korean war. However, he adds that he considers a move to the museum to be unlikely.
Melvin’s suggestion is backed up by comments from a recent tourist to the DPRK, who said that he was told by guides that the boat was under renovation before being moved to an unspecified museum.
The departure of the Pueblo, temporary or otherwise, would not be the first time North Korea has moved the medium-sized naval ship.
Captured initially off the East Sea near Wonsan, North Korea had to originally sail the ship around the southern part of the Korean peninsula to bring it to its long-standing mooring on the Taedong river. Rumors suggest that back then the North Korean navy had to disguise the ship as a fishing vessel to avoid interception by U.S. or ROK forces.
The U.S. has for years demanded the return of the Pueblo, which it considers to have been illegally expropriated by North Korea.
During an October 2000 visit to Pyongyang by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, North Korean negotiators reportedly presented an offer to repatriate the USS Pueblo as part of a proposed process of normalizing diplomatic relations between the two nations. However, the situation has to date remained unresolved.