SEOUL – Kim Jong Un recently used a 95-foot luxury yacht worth $7m to navigate North Korea’s East coast during a ten-day ‘on the spot guidance’ tour, an NK News investigation can exclusively reveal.
The yacht, a Princess 95MY, is possibly a recent purchase – one that could constitute a direct infringement of UN sanctions on the procurement of “luxury goods” by the DPRK. British-based Princess Yachts, the manufacturer of the 95MY, belongs to the luxurious LVMH group that owns Louis Vuitton, Moet Chandon, Christian Dior and over 60 other brands with a reputation for luxury and, above all, expense.
An updated version of the same yacht–the Princess 98MY–sells for over $8.7m, comes with an interior designed exclusively by italian handbag designers Fendi, and has been described by reviewers as “one of the most luxurious craft Princess have ever built.”
The two yachts look almost identical, making the purchase and shipping of Kim’s Princess difficult to track – unlike the 95MY, the newer and larger 98MY is not yet available to buy in Asia, and numbers are few.
“As we suspect, if it is a 95MY rather than a 98MY then the number of vessels is much greater and, given we launched the 95MY some years ago, many of them will have since changed hands on the private brokerage market,” Will Green, Sales Director for Princess Yachts International, which is now conducting its own investigation, told NK News.
The Kim family has a large private compound in the eastern city of Wonsan–that is home to an assortment of private villas, beaches and a large boat shed that was built at some point in the late 2000s– according to publicly available satellite imagery.
In his longest trip outside Pyongyang since taking power, Kim Jong Un based himself in Wonsan and embarked on an official ten day tour of North Korea’s east coast this May. These visits are often heavily documented by North Korean news agencies and regularly dominate over other events in North Korean print and broadcast media.
During an inspection of the ‘August 25th Fishery Station’, the starboard side of a large luxury yacht was captured in a May 28 KCNA photo of Kim and his generals walking along the docks – indicating it might have been deliberately included in the photo.
“Compare the details on the hard top roof between this and the Princess 95MY,” a boat broker familiar with Princess boats and luxury yachts told NK News via email. “The opening, the three stainless-steel bar supports under the flying deck roof and the detailing on the radar arch are all identical,” the source, who did not want to be identified, said.
LIKES FATHER, LIKES SUN
“The expansive flybridge deck, generous staterooms and full width saloon and dining area can accommodate up to ten people in elegant style; taking the pleasures of extended life on-board to an entirely new level,” a Princess 95MY brochure reads.
In 2006, the UN Security Council blocked the sale of ‘luxury goods’ to North Korea with Resolution 1718. Despite this, individual member states were able to independently determine what constituted a ‘luxury good’ and a lot of trade, therefore, continued.
In 2009, however, Italy stopped the sale and export of two locally-manufactured Azimut yachts, that were likely to have been destined for the Kim family compound in Wonsan. The Austrian national who brokered the deal was fined by the UN, and Italian financial authorities auctioned the seized boats.
Kim Jong Il never received his new Azimut yachts, although he still has two large superyachts and a mobile swimming pool moored amongst naval and fishing boats on the other side of Wonsan. Media reports often incorrectly state he was “entombed” with a “luxury yacht”, referring to a small gray naval frigate in the Kumsusan mausoleum that was occasionally used by the late leader.
Kim Jong Un is regularly described by North Korean propaganda as rightfully carrying out the “will” of Kim Jong Il. It is clear, however, that nuclear and missile tests were not the only thing he inherited from his father. Stories of Kim Jong Un’s equally lavish lifestyle are not rare – but evidence proving those stories, is.
Last year, the Choson Ilbo, a conservative Seoul-based daily, published an article quoting a South Korean diplomatic source that claimed Kim Jong Un was negotiating a deal on “two luxury yachts made in the UK through a North Korean trading company operating in China.” Princess yachts is one of the largest boat manufacturers in the UK, along with Sunseeker and Fairline Boats.
“The North requested a discount on the yachts,” the source told the Choson Ilbo, “which cost around $10 million USD each.”
New sanctions in march led to Resolution 2094 that, among other things, now explicitly bans the sale or export of yachts and luxury cars to North Korea – for all member states. A final report by the Panel of Experts (PoE) is due to be published later this month.
Kim Jong Il’s fondness for smaller luxury yachts might have started as early as 2002.
That August, Russian broadsheet Izevstia reported that Kim Jong Il was planning to meet Putin on a Princess yacht during a summit in Vladivostok, the centre of the Russian Far East.
“Primorskiy Krai press are actively discussing the urgent purchase and transfer of a ‘Princess’ motor pleasure yacht from Japan to Vladivostok,” the report said. “information obtained by Izvestia indicates that the yacht belonged to a British company, and cost £1,113,375.”
NK News contacted various Vladivostok-based brokers who deal Princess yachts, but none were prepared to go on the record. Yachts like Kim Jong Un’s Princess 95MY are capable of deep sea navigation, a trip between Vladivostok and Wonsan being perfectly navigable.
The Choson Ilbo source, however, points towards a “China-based” company as being behind Kim Jong Un’s yacht procurement and, in the same article, suggests that “North Korea also imported equipment to produce artificial snow and ski lifts” to build what we now know to be the Masik Pass Ski Resort, also near Wonsan.
Over long distances, large shipments like yachts and industrial equipment are normally transported using container ships.
Although impossible to verify at this stage, one such China-based container company that directly deals with North Korea, for example, is Global Unity (GU) Shipping – a Dalian-based shipping company that operates 15 ships and a staff of 242, according to the company website.
“[We] specialize in providing customers in [North] Korea and other countries with a comprehensive shipping service,” a description of the company on the website, in Chinese, says.
“We are currently focused on strategically allocating our versatile and highly cost-effective fleet of boats in order to satisfy the needs of [North] Korean maritime shipping.”
Like other similar companies, GU has a branch in Rajin, the centre of the Rajin-Songbon special economic zone, on North Korea’s north east coast.
Large cargo ships called “Yachtships” are normally used to transport luxury yachts, although they often leave their cargo exposed, and clearly visible to prying eyes.
“In collusion with the client, it would be perfectly possible to place a superyacht in the middle of a wide container ship, then surround it with containers on all sides,” the boat broker told NK News.
“Then a tarpaulin, or another form of cover, over the top would conceal it from aerial view.”
Additional reporting by Curtis Melvin in Washington D.C. and Joe Innes in St. Petersburg. Headline image courtesy Princess Yachts International, used with permission.