The North Korean ferry, the ManGyongBong, docked in the port of the far eastern city of Vladivostok, Russia, May 18, 2017. Reuters/Yuri Maltsev
The North Korean ferry, the ManGyongBong, docked in the port of the far eastern city of Vladivostok, Russia, May 18, 2017. Reuters/Yuri Maltsev

The ferry service between Russia and North Korea has resumed after being suspended in August due to a financial dispute with Vladivostok port unrelated to sanctions on Pyongyang, the operator said. But the vessel is transporting only cargo, no passengers.

The ferry, the first ever between Russia and North Korea, was aimed at attracting tourists from China, Russia and other countries interested in visiting the secretive state, as well as commercial cargo services.

However, it started up as the United Nations Security Council imposed stricter sanctions on North Korea is response to its missile and nuclear weapon development program, sanctions that both China and Russia supported.

Mikhail Khmel, deputy general director of the company running the vessel’s operations, InvestStroyTrest LLC, said the ferry from Vladivostok and North Korea’s Rajin Port doesn’t violate the sanctions and the disruptions are due to financial disagreements about passenger costs with the Russian port.

“We resumed freight transportation from Vladivostok to Rajin and from Rajin to Vladivostok,” Khmel said. “They have already made two crossings, but without passengers,” he said in an interview. He declined to specify what cargo was on board, just that it was of Russian and North Korean origin.

“Under sanctions come coal, pig iron and so on and even sea produce. We don’t carry any of that on our ship,” he said.

A Russian national flag flutters in front of a view of a bridge over the Golden Horn bay in the city of Vladivostok September 10, 2012. Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin

In explaining the passenger dispute, Khmel said Vladivostok sea terminal requires that the vessel pay landing fees for a minimum of 95 passengers even when carrying fewer than that number. That’s not acceptable to the operator, he said.

As soon as the issue with the management of Vladivostok Sea Terminal LLC is resolved, we will resume transportation of passengers. From our side, everything is ready,” Khmel said.

Read: Cruise line to link Korea, Japan to Vladivostok as tourism jumps 

Earlier this week, the US State Department said it expected all UN member states, including Russia, to implement the sanctions on North Korea and urged countries “to take additional steps to apply maximum pressure on (North Korea), including by cutting their economic and diplomatic ties,” according to a Reuters report.

North Korea is clearly interested in the ferry service continuing.

Pyongyang’s consulate general in Russia sent a letter to the governor of the Primorsky Krai region where Vladivostok is located to seek help with resumption of the ferry service, RIA Novosti reported, quoting from the letter.

InvestStroyTrest started the ferry service on May 18, 2017 and over three months carried about 400 passengers.

The ferry vessel, ManGyongBong, can carry up to 1,000 tons of cargo and 193 passengers. It has 40 passenger cabins of different class, a restaurant and two bars, a shop, slot machines, a karaoke room, and a sauna.

Under the prior schedule, the vessel would leave Vladivostok on Fridays and from Rajin on Wednesdays. The crossing would be overnight, taking 8 to 10 hours.

The ice-free Rajin port is part of the city of Rason, which is a special economic zone in North Korea. It borders the Chinese province of Jilin and Primorsky Krai of Russia.