The weekly ferry service between Vladivostok and the port of Rajin in North Korea has been suspended for an indefinite period due to a contract dispute between the operator and Russian port authorities.
The vessel, ManGyongBong, has already missed two sailings because it has no alternative to landing passengers at the Vladivostok Sea Terminal, Mikhail Khmel, deputy general director of InvestStroyTrest LLC, the company that runs the ferry, told Asia Times.
Russia voting in favor of United Nations economic sanctions on North Korea because of its nuclear and missile tests is not the reason for the dispute, Khmel said.
“The reason is financial,” he said. “Vladivostok Marine Terminal requires us to pay for no fewer than 95 passengers. If we carry fewer we still pay for 95. If it’s higher, we pay more. We do not agree with this. We do not want to pay for a service that is not received.”
Vladivostok Sea Terminal LLC in its official announcement said the contract was suspended ” as a result of InvestStroyTrest LLC recalling authorization privileges from the company LLC Liga Transit, which was its agent and representative.”
“A contract agreement is a prerequisite for receiving and processing a vessel by the terminal,” according to the statement.
The ferry service, which started on May 18 and is the first between the two neighbors, has had previous problems.
On Friday, July 14, Russian officials prevented the vessel from leaving Vladivostok for 16 hours owing to customs checks related to UN sanctions on Pyongyang.
Khmel said the vessel’s cargo did not include sanctioned export items from North Korea, such as coal. It also didn’t carry seafood, which is shipped by rail to China, he said.
The ship, which was was built in 1992 to celebrate the 80th anniversary of Kim Il Sung, can carry up to 1,000 tons of cargo and 193 passengers.
It has 40 cabins of different classes, a restaurant and two bars, a shop, slot machines, a room for karaoke, and a sauna. The North Korean crew conducts music concerts on board.
ManGyongBong sailed every Friday from Vladivostok and from North Korea every Wednesday. The crossing was done at night and took 8-10 hours.