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“134 Boxes of Cigarettes? Let’s Have a Look at Them.”

“134 Boxes of Cigarettes? Let’s Have a Look at Them.”

Posted November. 04, 2006 03:22,   


“Incoming ship!”

The setting is the command center of Busan Customs at 2:00 p.m. on November 3. Commissioner Choi Gyu-wan of the monitoring station keeps his eyes fixed on the 72 screens of the closed circuit televisions installed all over Busan Port, then focuses on one screen.

A ship comes into wharf 3 dock 37 of Busan Port. It is the Chu Sing, the only cargo liner that goes between Najin, North Korea and Busan Port every week. The customs officers’ faces look tense. Commissioner Choi gives orders to move out.

The Chu Sing (a 2,000-tonner) has been prosecuted seven times in the past for bringing drugs and fake cigarettes into the Busan Port to send to other countries. After the North’s nuclear experiment, the U.S. had suggested that radiation detectors that can monitor the transfer of nuclear materials be installed at Busan Port.

This reporter boarded the Chu Sing for the first time as a member of the Korean press to watch the search process and meet the sailors.

Bringing in Cigarettes Prohibited –

Unlike other vessels that dock in different places depending on the situation at the port, the Chu Sing always has to dock at number 37 of wharf 3. The Chu Sing is designated as a “priority monitoring vessel” by Busan Customs.

As soon as the Chu Sing arrived, two members of the entry and departure processing team and two members of the vessel search team of Busan Customs boarded the ship. Two police officers from the Korea Coast Guard also boarded.

The officials matched the cargo and crew with the reported documents, and then closely searched the 19 cabins, the fire room and galley with flashlights and screw drivers in hand.

“You have 134 boxes of cigarettes on board? Let’s have a look.”

Two customs officers from the vessel search team checked the cargo list and told a Chinese sailor to open the “cigarette storeroom.”

One sailor explained, “The cigarettes aren’t for selling. They’re for the sailors to smoke during sailing.” However, the customs officials opened and checked the boxes one by one and ordered them to be sealed. This prevents the contents from being taken out and used before the ship leaves the port. A customs officer will check the boxes again right before the ship departs.

Najin Port in North Korea is Worse –

The Chu Sing is operated by Dongryong Shipping, a Chinese-Korean private joint company. All the sailors are Chinese.

It usually takes 48 hours for the Chu Sing to sail from Najin to Busan Port. Because the ship sails once a week and stays in Busan Port for approximately 12 hours, it casts anchor in North Korea for two days every week.

The first mate of the Chu Sing, Gong Wen-bo (32), said, “It’s impossible to meet North Korean civilians when we’re staying in North Korea.”

According to Mr. Gong, the ship undergoes a strict search by North Korean customs officials in North Korea, just like in Busan. He said, “In North Korea, the search is much more authoritative, and the cabins are searched more thoroughly.” Because armed North Korean soldiers guard the ship, sailors cannot leave the port until their day of departure.

Mr. Gong said, “One of us goes to the market to buy groceries every two weeks, but an official of the North Korean Defense Department always follows.”

After the cabin search was over, the cargo search of the 71 containers and 62 tons of bulk cargo on the Chu Sing began. Dried cod fillets, dried mushrooms, dried shrimp, and North Korean farm produce such as pumpkins constituted most of the cargo.

In the case of ordinary vessels, about two percent of the containers are selected for x-ray testing, but for the Chu Sing, over 30 percent are chosen. On the day of our coverage, 19 out of 71 containers were tested. Customs increased the rate by over 10 percent after the nuclear experiment by the North.

A More Thorough Search –

Manager Kim Chang-jin of the Busan office of Dongryong Shipping said, “I wish they would search more thoroughly, to clear our name of the reputation of being a drug and fake cigarette smuggling vessel.” He also added, “The Chu Sing just delivers the cargo; we don’t know what’s inside.”

Manager Kim seemed worried, saying, “We’ve had three straight years of deficit. Importing companies are trying to move more goods before the situation gets worse after the nuclear experiment, so we have more cargo than usual, but I think things will worsen soon.”

There is no equipment for checking for explosives or radioactivity at Busan Port yet. It is possible to find narcotics or fake cigarettes by x-ray scanning but for nuclear weapons, it isn’t so easy.