North Korea has manufactured three solar powered leisure boats, according to images released by Korea Today, a monthly periodical published for foreign audiences.
The vessels were built by an unnamed company at the Ryongnam Shipyard on the DPRK’s east coast and were unveiled in a feature highlighting recent advances in the country’s civilian shipbuilding industry.
“(The North Korean company) built three sophisticated pleasure boats with intelligent functions in only a few months. The boats are driven by solar power under an automatic control system,” the article reads.
The accompanying images show three small craft lined up near a dock. Two small additional photographs of the interior show very minimal controls, and rows of seats indicating the vessels are intended to carry small groups.
Satellite imagery of the site taken in May this year shows two similar craft docked at the Ryongnam Shipyard. The satellite photos appear to show a matching green bow at the front of the ship, which juts out from the main body of the vessel.
The discrepancy indicates a further vessel was built in the intervening time period, or that one was added digitally. The image released by Korea Today appears to show some signs of tampering, though the extent and reasons for the editing are unclear.
But the design of the vessels matches a computer graphics render published by DRPK Today on June 13 this year. The article claims the solar boats use no fossil fuels and had successfully finished their testing phase.
Solar boats are not an especially new technology, but they are not widely used given the panels and all accompanying electrical infrastructure must be thoroughly waterproofed and regularly cleaned.
One expert expressed skepticism the vessels were fully powered by solar.
“I don’t think the boat is run only by solar panels. Maybe they are for the electricity supplies inside the boat,” Lee Seok-gi at the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade told NK News. “But it wouldn’t be run entirely by the power.”
Korea Today claims the company that built the solar boats did so after finishing the Ja Ryok, one of the North’s relatively few domestically produced cargo ships.
Previous analysis by NK Pro indicated the Ja Ryok could be the only North Korean vessel made to sail in international waters this decade.
Examination of the build dates of the DPRK’s fleet built over the last 40 years indicates that domestically produced commercial ships are rare, with construction declining and commercial fleets comprised mainly of aging Japanese-built vessels.
While the North’s solar boats will do little to stem the decline, they are not the first type of solar vehicle highlighted by DPRK media. In June this year, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) claimed that solar powered buses were operating in Nampho.
Additional reporting by JH Ahn
Edited by: Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Korea Today