Couldn’t care lessThe cargo ship Jin Long, which is strongly suspected of smuggling North Korean coal into South Korea, leaves Pohang Harbor tonight after having been docked at the southern port for four days. Circumstantial evidence suggests that the Belize-registered vessel brought in coal from North Korea after claiming its origin was Russia. If that is true, South Korean authorities must seize, search and detain the ship as stipulated by the United Nations Security Council resolutions on North Korea.
Nevertheless, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday shrugged the whole episode off, saying that the authorities could not confirm the origin of the coal even after looking into it. The Korea Resources Corporation, a state-run company focusing on mining, says that authorities can hardly determine the coal’s origin if they simply examine it. As the vessel’s shipping documents looked genuine, the authorities say they have no legal grounds to prohibit the cargo ship from leaving Pohang Harbor.
However, just because the authorities were not able to ascertain the origin of the coal does not mean it did not come from North Korea. That only testifies to our authorities’ critical lack of determination to find the true origin of the coal.
It all began after Voice of America and other U.S. media outlets raised doubts about the possibility of North Korean coal being smuggled into South Korea despite strict UN sanctions. They reported the doubts nearly a year ago. Since then, as many as nine suspicious cargo ships carrying hundreds of tons of allegedly North Korean coal have entered and left our ports. But our authorities keep saying they did not know for sure if those vessels shipped North Korean coal to the south. Their reaction is tantamount to conniving in the smuggling.
The authorities are reportedly investigating the case through digital identification tools available to check if domestic importers fabricated shipping documents. But if Russian importers forged the documents in collusion with North Korea, you cannot detect it.
Our authorities must find effective ways to ascertain the true origin of suspicious coal through cooperation with the United States and other countries. We are capable of identifying an object as small as a basketball through satellites. Modern technology will surely enable us to find the true origin of the coal. How will the government respond if the coal turns out to be North Korean? It will be tempted to say it did not know. Once you lose international trust, you can lose it for a long time.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 8, Page 30