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North Korean ships scramble to pack as Japan slaps ban

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10/19/2006 01:44 AM
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North Korean ships scramble to pack as Japan slaps ban
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North Korean ships scramble to pack as Japan slaps ban

TOKYO, Oct 13 (AFP) Oct 13, 2006
North Koreans crammed boats with bicycles, appliances and other goods they could get their hands on as they scrambled to leave Japan Friday under a ban imposed over Pyongyang's nuclear test.

Japan banned all visits by ships and all imports from the impoverished communist state as of midnight Friday (1500 GMT).

Twenty-two North Korean ships were docked in Japan when the ban was announced, officials said. Eleven of them were in Sakai, which Friday snapped off a symbolic sister-city agreement with the major North Korean port of Wonsan.

"The crew members seem to be in a hurry loading lots of goods as they have to leave today," said Yasutake Nakamura, an official at the port management union in Sakai, which is in western Tottori prefecture.

In one cargo ship, crew members were working hard binding a huge mountain of second-hand bicycles to the sides on the deck board.

Seafood, second-hand bicycles and tailored suits were among the key products in North Korea's limited trade with Japan.

"Today's the last day for me to pass goods to North Korean ships. I hurried to come here," a 53-year-old trader of used tyres was quoted as saying in the Nihon Keizai Shimbun business daily's evening edition.

From early morning, dozens of trucks entered and left without stop at a quay in Sakai for foreign ships.

Bilateral trade has already been severely restricted and subject to boycotts due to political tensions. North Korea in 2002 admitted it had kidnapped Japanese civilians in the 1970s and 1980s, provoking fury.

"North Korean marine products are unpopular now, so they've been replaced by Norwegian and Japanese," Nakamura said.

"I've heard most marine products from North Korea have disappeared from retailers' outlets in recent weeks," he said.

The Japan Coast Guard told all port operators to urge North Korean ships to leave Friday.

"It's not realistic to think that a North Korean ship would dare to enter a Japanese port from tomorrow as the risk and cost of doing it would be very high for them," said Satoshi Kawasaki, a spokesman for the coast guard.

"But in the unlikely event of a ship entering our port areas neglecting our warnings, its captain will be arrested," he said.

The cabinet of new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is known for hawkish views on North Korea, approved the sanctions Friday in the hope that the United Nations Security Council would also get tough on North Korea.

In Abe's hometown of Shimonoseki, in southwestern Yamaguchi prefecture, a cargo ship that had been due to leave next week raced to pack up and leave Friday, said port official Hitoshi Uraoka.

He did not know if the products would be sold back in North Korea.

"Like other North Korean ships, this cargo ship, called Sambongsan, brought marine products such as freshwater clams here and is now loading miscellaneous goods such as second-hand bicycles, refrigerators and other home appliances," Uraoka said.

In Otaru port on the northern island of Hokkaido, four North Korean cargo ships that had arrived with sea urchins had to leave by Friday's deadline and were taking back everything they could, said city official Makoto Chikazawa.

"They left with loads of goods, from old bicycles to fridges to desks," Chikazawa said. "From tomorrow there will be no more port calls by North Korean ships."

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