The Korea Herald


NK ferry carrying art troupe crosses maritime border into South

By Jung Min-kyung

Published : Feb. 6, 2018 - 16:19

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The North Korean ferry Mangyongbong-92 carrying the 140-member Samjiyon art troupe crossed a de facto maritime border in the East Sea around 9:50 a.m., sailing at its maximum speed of 13 knots or about 24 kilometers per hour as it headed to Mukho port on the east coast, according to the Unification Ministry. 

North Korea`s Mangyongbong-92 (Yonhap) North Korea`s Mangyongbong-92 (Yonhap)

Although South Korea’s unilateral sanctions ban North Korean vessels from entering its waters, Seoul made an exemption for Mangyongbong-92 as part of an Olympic overture. The sanctions announced on May 24, 2010 were imposed in response to North Korea’s alleged sinking of a South Korean Navy corvette.

The art troupe’s visit comes as the two Koreas have agreed to hold a series of special events leading up to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un expressed willingness to send a delegation to the games in his New Year’s address.

The Samjiyon art troupe consisting of an orchestra, dancers and singers is slated to perform in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, a subhost city of the Feb. 9-25 Winter Games on Thursday and in Seoul on Sunday. Details of the performances have yet to be revealed, but the North has hinted that South Korean songs will be included in the programs.

Hyon Song-wol, the leader of the all-female Moranbong Band, will head the Samjiyon art troupe. She was part of the delegation that visited the South last month to inspect prospective venues for the performances.

The art troupe reportedly left Pyongyang on Monday for the eastern port city of Wonsan to board the ferry bound for South Korea, according to North Korea’s state-run radio station.

A photo released by the North’s state news agency showed female members of the troupe wearing matching red coats and black fur hats at a train station in Pyongyang.

The group was greeted by senior party officials including Kim Yo-jong, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s younger sister, and Pak Kwang-ho, the director of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea’s propaganda and agitation department. According to an official at Seoul’s Unification Ministry, Kim Yo-jong is “a vice director at the WPK’s propaganda and agitation department,” which is the No. 3 post at the department.

A separate advance team overseeing technical aspects of the performances had arrived a day earlier via a western land route, a route that goes through the now-shuttered joint industrial complex in the border town of Kaesong in North Korea.

Mangyongbong-92 was expected to arrive and dock at the South’s Mukho port on the east coast at 5 p.m., according to Seoul. The ship is to serve as both a means of transportation and accommodation for the group

The 9,700-ton cargo-passenger ferry Mangyongbong-92 is named after a hill in Pyongyang near the birthplace of the North’s late founder Kim Il-sung. It transported the North’s cheering squad for the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, the South’s southern port city.

The ferry will be used as the art troupe’s accommodation when it holds the concert in Gangneung. The exact time the ferry will head back to the North or whether it will extend is stay is not yet clear.

The Unification Ministry said the Seoul government would provide food, fuel and electricity to the North Korean ship throughout the troupe’s stay.

“The South will offer the necessary conveniences (to the Mangyongbong-92) based on the precedent of the 2002 Busan Asian Games,” said the official.

It will be checked that US food ingredients are not included in meals to prevent a possible violation of US sanctions that ban the delivery of US goods and services to North Korea, added the official.

The official said that while the Mangyongbong-92 is not blacklisted by the US, Seoul has consulted with Washington to confirm that the ferry is not subject to Washington’s sanctions.

By Jung Min-kyung (