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Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.
North Korea is building a new large size ‘luxury’ river cruiser, photos recently taken in Pyongyang and remarks from local sources confirm.
A photograph, taken on June 22 from the nearby Juche Tower, shows ongoing construction of the cruiser, which Google Earth measurement tools indicate is approximately 95m long and 25m wide.
It’s the largest river cruiser ever to be built for use in Pyongyang, roughly a third longer than the recently built Taedonggang Restaurant Boat, which Kim Jong Un inspected in March 2013.
Sources in Pyongyang told NK News that the vessel, which is being finished near the Taedong Bridge in the center of the city, will contain one, possibly more, “luxury” restaurants.
“It will be used as a big restaurant, or better to say a series of restaurants,” a source in Pyongyang said, who requested anonymity due to sensitivities regarding media communications.
The hull was moved to its current location sometime after April 2014, satellite imagery on Google Earth shows.
But it is too big to sail under either the Taedong bridge or the Okrryu bridge, meaning that will only ever be able to sail in a small part of the river.
The river cruiser, which is not yet complete, comprised of only a base level hull upon arrival in Pyongyang, a source told NK News. Additional floors, fit-out and paintwork are all being completed on site.
Painting such a craft while afloat is not particularly unusual, as it frees up space for another keel to be laid in the builder’s yard.
Although a large example of a river cruiser, the bow section is too low to operate in exposed offshore seas, meaning ocean use of the vessel will not be possible.
Tourism industry professionals contacted by NK News did not yet know if the cruiser would be available for foreigner use.
Curtis Melvin, a researcher at the U.S. Korea Institute in Washington, DC, told NK News that the new vessel looked similar to the Taedonggang Restaurant Boat, which was launched last year.
“This boat appears very similar to the Taedonggang Restaurant Boat, both in size and origin. Both were imported and refurbished,” said Melvin.
“The Taedonggang Restaurant Boat was refurbished by the December 7 Factory in Rakrang District, so this new boat may ultimately end up there as well,” Melvin added, noting it was “unusual” to see a half-constructed structure moored in such a position.
The Taedonggang Restaurant Boat, which Kim Jong Un visited at the height of inter-Korean tensions last year, has a dining capacity of 300 people and was built by the Korean People’s Army, state media outlet the Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) previously said.
Visiting the boat in 2013, Kim Jong Un stressed that the staff should “pay great attention to air conditioning” and said “a boat can be successfully built only when good materials are used”.
Prior to the launch of the Taedonggang Restaurant Boat, Pyongyang’s two only floating restaurants were the “No. 1 Boat Restaurant” and “No. 2 Boat Restaurant”.
Both vessels are of a relatively vintage nature and allow visitors to go on floating dining tours of central Pyongyang.
Since Kim Jong Un assumed power in late 2011, North Korea has been placing unprecedented efforts at constructing or renovating leisure facilities, many of which are often advertised to foreign visitors.
North Korean media have yet to report on the construction of the latest river cruiser.
Main picture: Flickr Creative Commons, Clay Gilliland