Days may be numbered for Kumgang's floating hotel
Satellite imagery shows that North Korea has begun dismantling some of the facilities formerly operated by South Korean company Hyundai Asan at the Mount Kumgang resort, according to a report by Voice of America (VoA).
Photographs of the resort taken between March 5 and 9 by Planet Labs show that the roof of the floating Haegumgang Hotel, docked on the coastal area of the resort, has become darker, according to Voice of America on March 11.
Satellite images showed heavy machinery moved in front of the facility, raising suspicions it may be in place to remove or demolish the hotel.
South Korean officials said on March 10 they had detected signs that the North could be moving to dismantle parts of the resort complex, but did not specify which.
The resort, launched in 1998 by Hyundai Asan, the arm of the South Korean conglomerate that engages in inter-Korean business, is located on the southeastern coast of North Korea near Mount Kumgang.
In addition to hotels and other facilities for South Korean tourists, who once visited in carefully monitored groups, the complex includes a convention center that hosted inter-Korean reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.
Along with the Kaesong Industrial Complex, former home to factories operated by South Korean companies but staffed by North Korean workers, the Mount Kumgang resort was a symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation and South Korean investment in the North.
However, South Korean tours to the resort were suspended in 2008 after a North Korean guard fatally shot a South Korean tourist who strayed into a restricted area.
Amid worsening tensions over stalled denuclearization talks between the Washington and Pyongyang, North Korean state media reported in October 2019 that leader Kim Jong-un wanted to demolish what he called “unpleasant-looking” facilities at the resort.
During his visit to the resort, Kim reportedly criticized the facilities, saying that “they are not only very backward in terms of architecture but look so shabby as they are not properly cared for. The buildings are just a hotchpotch with no national character at all.”
He went on to say that the “unpleasant-looking facilities” should be removed and rebuilt to “meet [North Korea's] own sentiment and aesthetic taste.”
The North said again in 2021 that it would renovate the Mount Kumgang resort and build a modern international tourist complex, but the planned redevelopment of the site has been on hold due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Built in Singapore, the Haegumgang Hotel was the world’s first floating hotel when it opened in 1988 as the Barrier Reef Floating Resort in Townsville Australia.
Its life in Australia was brief, however, as it was sold only a year later to a Vietnamese company and moved to Ho Chi Minh City.
The hotel operated for almost a decade in Vietnam before being sold again to Hyundai Asan, which towed it to North Korea.
The hotel appeared covered in rust and run down in photos released in 2019 by the South Korean Unification Ministry, signs of poor maintenance since operations by Hyundai Asan ended almost 14 years ago.
BY MICHAEL LEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]