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View more articles by Colin Zwirko
Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
Correction at 17:00 KST, November 12: The Jang Jin Gang’s last known location was previously listed as Vladivostok in March 2018, but has been changed to reflect NK Pro Live Ship Tracking data indicating it was in Nampho in March 2019.
North Korea’s ruling party daily Rodong Sinmun reported on Saturday details of an apparent cargo ship sinking in October, naming a vessel which a UN sanctions panel has linked to prohibited coal transfers at sea.
The details of the Jang Jin Gang’s sinking were revealed in a story about the ship’s Chief Engineer Kim Myong Ho, who is praised as a national hero for saving hanging portraits of the deceased former North Korean leaders as the vessels was going down.
According to the Rodong, he also protected the portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il in a special red case after falling from a lifeboat, drifting at sea for 38 hours alone, and finally being rescued by sailors from an unnamed foreign country.
The apparent sinking is said in the article to have taken place after being caught in severe winds on October 15, without specifying the year. It is likely referring to this year, however, as the article marked the incident’s first mention in state media.
It is unclear where the incident took place or from what country the fishermen who reportedly rescued Kim Myong Ho hail.
It has also not been independently confirmed if the Jang Jin Gang named in the article is the same cargo ship which has been suspected of engaging in sanctions-busting trade activities for North Korea.
The one which the Rodong says sank in October is said to be owned or managed by the Taehung Trading Guidance Bureau (대흥무역지도국), that its first voyage was “some years ago,” but that it was already “on its 99th voyage” on this fateful trip.
The known vessel by the same name was registered as being owned by the North Korean Jangjingang Shipping Co Ltd. during an inspection in Vladivostok in late March 2018.
Its last publicly broadcast location was near Nampho in March this year, with its previous port listed as Wonsan on North Korea’s opposite coast.
NK News’s sister site NK Pro has tracked a cargo vessel named the Jang Jin Gang, a “6095 tonne cargo ship with previous links to illicit company networks in Hong Kong.”
“Former owners include Shenghao Marine Hong Kong, a company in the Kasatsugu Network which has helped North Korea evade sanctions,” the NK Pro Live Ship Tracking tool said of the vessel, adding that “it has used a FOC (flag of convenience) in the past and made frequent visits to North Korean in recent years.”
The UN Panel of Experts (PoE) 2019 midterm report on suspected North Korean sanctions violations said a member state photographed the Jang Jin Gang preparing to conduct a ship-to-ship coal transfer off the coast of Ningbo, China.
The Chinese government, however, responded to the panel on the case that the photographic evidence “is ambiguous and lacks accuracy, which does not constitute a full evidence chain or basis for further investigation.”
It has not been designated as a sanctioned vessel by the UN, but the Jang Jin Gang has been prohibited by the U.S. Coast Guard from entering U.S. waters.
RESCUE OF THE RESCUER
This weekend’s Rodong article described the harrowing tale of the vessel’s Chief Engineer Kim Myong Ho taking great risk to save the hanging Kim portraits, lock them in a special red case, and zip them up inside a wetsuit he put on as the ship was sinking.
But Kim was said to have fallen overboard from one of the small lifeboats, drifting at sea alone for 38 hours before finding himself aboard “the deck of some other country’s fishing vessel.”
The country was not named, but the rescuing sailors are said in the article to have reacted positively when Kim revealed the contents of the special red case he had “not set down for even a moment” throughout the entire ordeal.
Kim was also reportedly taken to a local hospital in the unknown country for an unspecified period of time, where he was “overwhelmed by the doctors’ earnest request” to see the contents of the case emblazoned with the slogan “Safeguard [the Leadership of the Revolution] with Desperate Courage.”
The hospital then “erupted in loud applause” when they saw the Kim portraits, the article claims, while the doctors “said they have heard a lot about Juche Korea, but this is the first time they have witnessed the absolute loyalty of the Korean people to their own leader and that they have learned what the source of [North] Korea’s power is.”
The article then delves into the lesson of the case and how readers should learn from Kim Myong Ho’s example in protecting the leadership — including their portraits — at all cost.
Kim’s case and similar encouragement to citizens to follow his example and increase loyalty to Kim Jong Un and the party was also mentioned again in an article in the Rodong on Monday.
Similar cases have been promoted in state media in the past as well, including the example in 2012 of a 14-year-old named Han Hyon Gyong who reportedly drowned while trying to rescue the Kim portraits during a flood.
Edited by Oliver Hotham