Talk of Blockading North Korea “not in our thinking”

(c) K.B. Sherman, 2003

Australian Ambassador to Seoul Colin Heseltine raised eyebrows recently when he brought-up the “B” word, stating that, although his country is increasingly concerned with Pyongyang’s drug smuggling to fund its WMD program, Australia has no plans to participate in a blockade of North Korea. According to the Korea Times, Heseltine explained that “a naval blockade would be extremely difficult to implement and is not something that is in our thinking.” This news coincides with a report that among ideas favored by US “hardliners” is a naval quarantine of North Korea to seize missiles, drugs and counterfeit money bound for foreign markets, although such is unlikely to be approved by the Bush Administration.

Still, such tough talk from Australia comes upon the heels of the Royal Australian Navy’s seizing of the North Korean ship Pong Su, carrying nearly $ 53 million (US) of nearly pure Thai heroin. A boarding party from HMAS Stuart (FFH-153) captured the Pong Su in May. Graham Ashton, southern operations manager for the Australian Federal Police, said the 4,015-ton Pong Su, was equipped with extra fuel tanks and special communications devices. The Pong Su's 30 crewmembers were to appear on July 11 before a Melbourne court to face charges of aiding and abetting the importation of illegal drugs.

Heseltine emphasized that the vessel was intercepted because it was carrying drugs, not because it was North Korean. Heseltine made his remarks in the context of Australia’s wanting to work with the US in ensuring the Korean peninsula remains free of weapons of mass destruction.

According to The Herald Sun (Australia), two men identified as high-ranking North Korean defectors recently told a closed session of the US Senate’s Governmental Affairs Committee that they had been intimately involved in test-firing Pyongyang's missiles in Iran, an activity supported largely through a state-sponsored drug ring. They stated that the DPRK, desperate for hard currency, produces large quantities of heroin, methamphetamines, and opium that are sold for money to run the collapsing state’s defense industry. North Korean officials denied the smuggling charges.

A boarding party from HMAS Stuart (FFH-153) captured the North Korean smuggler Pong Su in May. (pic: Royal Australian Navy)