China heightens vessel monitoring after Chinese and North Korean vessels collide

North Korean smugglers unloading goods in Dandong
North Korean smugglers unloading goods in Dandong, China in 2017. Image: Daily NK

Two vessels from North Korea and China collided near the Sino-North Korean border, and several Chinese crew members are missing. Chinese authorities are strictly managing the departures of Chinese fishing boats after the incident and strengthening monitoring of boat-based smuggling across the border.

“Two ships, one from China and the other from North Korea, collided in the waters near Tonggang back on March 14,” reported a Daily NK source based in China. “The North Korean ship was large and the Chinese fishing vessel was small. The North Korean ship ran from the scene, and the Chinese boat sank.”

“As the Chinese boat was sinking, the vessel’s crew jumped into the water,” said the source. Six members of the crew are now missing, and their families have reportedly requested that the Chinese authorities conduct a search. There have been no reports that the missing crew members have been found.

The source also reported that some observers think the North Korean vessel deliberately rammed into the Chinese fishing boat.

North Korean authorities have sent an investigator to China to understand what happened, and the Chinese authorities are reportedly protesting the North Korean vessel’s actions to this official.

Tonggang is located around 40 kilometers from Dandong in China’s Liaoning Province, which borders North Korea. Smuggling activities have long occurred across the border in this region, and the recent collision may have something to do with smuggling.

“Chinese authorities have increased their monitoring of smuggling activities and are not allowing small fishing boats from heading out to fish,” said a separate source in China, adding that the authorities “will likely continue to keep a close watch over the area due to the severity of the incident.”

North Korean smugglers are feeling pressured to avoid smuggling activities for the time being given the atmosphere on the Chinese side of the border, according to a source in North Pyongan Province.

“North Korean traders and smugglers can’t send their goods over the border into China so they are pleading that their Chinese partners just take the goods at rock bottom prices,” he said.