Thursday, July 17, 2014


The Korean Merchant Marine Is Mostly About Nefarious Business

UPDATE 7/17/2014 11:00 CST:  We received a report this morning indicating that the Mu Du Bong, the North Korean merchant ship that disappeared from commercial tracking after entering the gulf of Mexico then reappeared in Cuba has grounded off of a Mexican reef 11 miles, ( 1 mile inside Mexican Territorial limits) from the Mexican Shore line. The ship was found to be empty and in badly deteriorated condition.

Not long ago a North Korean merchant ship was seized by Panama Canal Authorities and searched. An illegal weapons cargo was found and the ship and crew detained. There was a lot of sword rattling by North Korea but when the ship finally left and the crew was repatriated there were no weapons left on board. The closest thing in the world that North Korea has to a friend is China and China's COSCO shipping operates the Panama Canal. Yet Even the Dragon occasionally is embarrassed by the outrageous illegal behavior of North Korea. North Korean merchant ships visit the Gulf of Mexico with some regularity. Their entry into the Gulf is never a secret when entering via the Panama Canal since Canal traffic is posted publicly. Coast Guard and Naval Intelligence track where they go, and the places they visit which mostly consists of Cuba.  Despite our extensive spy satellite system, frequent airborne patrols, and the public records that merchant vessels leave behind each time they enter and clear a port through the local customs house, sometimes those up to no good manage to disappear for a little while. But they nearly always reappear within a few days at the longest. 

 North Korean ships of any sort in nearby waters are always a matter of concern. Late in June a North Korean merchant general cargo carrier the Mu Du Bong  vanished from the usual  commercial shipping intelligence picture. On Thursday July 10, 2014 Mu Du Bong reappeared at Havana. Then it sailed north ( Key West , Florida is just 90 miles due north of Cuba) and while still in international waters, turned west. Our last commercial intelligence report had her steaming in the vicinity of Tampico, Mexico. She hadn't entered Tampico , just steaming off shore. This is the kind of behavior we call a "hoovering vessel". The purpose of this maneuver is nearly always nefarious, usually to pick up an illegal cargo brought out to international waters by smaller craft. In this behavior the Mu Du Bong is exhibiting some of the same behaviors as the North Korean ship Chong Chon Gang which was caught trying to smuggle its illegal arms cargo through the Panama Canal. 

 Based on a tip, Panamanian authorities exhibiting some back bone and independence from China, who after all through COSCO SHIPPING, works for Panama; searched the Chong Chon Gang and found approximately 240 tons of arms and ancillary equipment, including two disassembled MIG -21 jet fighters, additional MIG engines, night vision equipment, small arms ammunition, and surface to air missile components neatly tucked under 200,000 bags of Cuban sugar. This amounted to a Cuban aided massive violation of UN imposed sanctions against North Korea. Also colluding in the avoidance of sanctions was the Bear. Papers aboard the Chong Chon Gang indicated that the ship took on fuel in a Russian Far East Port and then disappeared from commercial traffic by turning off its AIS transponder. AIS is the Automatic Identification System that commercial shipping is required to carry to facilitate safety and rescue. According to UN investigative reports the Chong Chon Gang kept its AIS transponder off even after landing in Cuba. It wasn't turned on again until she was outward bound with a cargo of sugar covering her illicit weapons cargo, and papers indicating that sugar was all of her cargo. The Chong Chon Gang was not the first such ship. We don't know what Naval or Coast Guard intelligence knows but merchant marine commercial intelligence sources like Lloyds and Equasis indicate that a pattern has been emerging involving North Korean merchant shipping and Cuba. 

 North Korean owned or controlled shipping enters the Gulf of Mexico with AIS illegally off, traces of previous movements are sketchy, there is a call in Cuba and the ships formally clear Cuban ports often only to disappear again with their AIS silenced. They are usually picked up again on satellite or over flight and the indicated movements can be quite bizarre. Clearly these ships behave like smugglers, perhaps more than weapons, perhaps weapons for places other than  North Korea.  It is very strange that North Korea would send another smuggler into the area so soon after the seizure of the Chong Chon Gang. It is particularly strange that the Mu Du Bong apparently entered the Caribbean via the Panama Canal, leaving of course a public record of her transit, then illegally shutting off her AIS, which was bound to trigger a U.S. maritime intelligence hunt. Was she sent to poke Uncle Sam in the eye and tout the fact that we haven't done anything about North Korean mischief just off our shores....or is this the signal of a new tactic in this cat and mouse game. Are U.S. forces being pulled off sent by a decoy that is acting deliberately suspicious while the real action slipped out of Cuba and headed out into the Atlantic. 

 The Islamic terrorist groups may hate communists as much as they hate Catholics but they need weapons to suppress the non conforming Muslim populations, murder Jews, and control Christians while fighting off local regimes or other legitimate military forces. To the terrorists the enemy of my enemy is my friend (at least as long as its is convenient). The North Koreans if in the arms smuggling terrorist support game have become so sloppy that their game is discernible to the commercial shipping industry, we can only guess what the active duty naval professionals know. But apparently we do nothing about it. That reflects decisions made at the White House level. We are not controlling the near seas, we do not control our coasts , and our borders are a joke. When might we expect some adult supervision in Washington?


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