New ferry links North Korea and Russia despite US calls for isolation

The Man Gyong Bong ferry left the port of Rajin in Rason, North Korea, about 500 miles from Pyongyang, on Wednesday and arrived in the Russian city Vladivostok at eight a.m. Thursday local time, according to the Russian news agency TASS.

A ferry service between Russian Federation and North Korea completed its inaugural journey Thursday morning, with 40 passengers on board.

North Korean ferry Man Gyong Bong-92 anchors at the central pier of the Niigata port, 250 kilometres (155 miles) north of Tokyo, 04 September 2003.

The launch of the route comes at a time when many North Korean merchants ships are badly in need of fix.

Baranov said Russian tourist companies had expressed interest in travelling to North Korea by ferry.

The company owns RosKor, which is the route's operator.

Built in 1971 and thoroughly refurbished in 2016, the ferry could carry up to 200 passengers and almost 1,500 tonnes of cargo.

CNN quoted Khmel as further saying that the vessel will undertake a return sail on May 19 (Friday).

But Reuters television was able to speak to three passengers, who said they were representatives of Chinese tourism agencies. China has no ports on the sea of Japan, so travelling to North Korea and on to Vladivostok is the quickest way of reaching Vladivostok by sea."It's our business, of our company, without any state subsidies, involvement and help", Mikhail Khmel, the deputy director of Investstroytrest, the Russian Federation firm operating the ferry, told reporters at the port. The first tourists on the first-ever passenger connection between the two countries are expected next week, it added.

The ship has been banned from entering Japanese ports since 2006 because of North Korea's ballistic missile launches, among other reasons.

Speaking in Beijing this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow was against North Korea's nuclear program, but that the world should talk to Pyongyang instead of threatening it.

North Korea's Mangyongbong has returned to service, raising fears about Pyongyang's economic ties to Moscow.

"While Russia is concerned about North Korea and its missiles, it also sees North Korea as an opportunity to gain leverage with the West, the United States in particular", said Matthew Chance, CNN Senior International Correspondent based in Moscow.

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