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N. Korean Cargo Ship Reduces Trips Between Busan and Rajin

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- In another sign of diminishing trade between the divided Koreas, the number of a North Korean cargo ships sailing between South Korea's Busan and North Korea's Rajin has diminished considerably this year.

   Kukbo Express Co., a South Korean company that serves as the agent of the North Korean ship, said on May 6 that the 1,592-ton freighter Tankyol reduced its round trips between the two ports to only once in April, a significant reduction from the average of three times per month until the end of last year.

   In March, the North Korean cargo ship made two round trips between the two ports through the eastern sea routes of the Korean Peninsula.

   In mid-April, the North Korean freighter berthed at a Busan dock with North Korean dried fish, beverages, mushrooms, clothes and frozen fish. Days later, it departed for Rajin with textiles, waste vinyl and beverages from South Korea.

   Officials said the failure of the North's currency reform last November has been the major factor behind the reduction of the freighter's trip to Busan. The redenomination of North Korean currency has paralyzed the market function, according to other North Korea watchers.

   In a series of inter-Korean reconciliation efforts between Seoul and Pyongyang, North Korean freighters launched their regular services in May 2007 shuttling between Busan and Rajin on expectations of steady growth in trade volume between the divided Koreas.

   For the first time in more than half a century, the 1,853-ton freighter Kangsong, carrying a 27-member crew, docked at the Busan port in May 2007. Kangsong was replaced by the 1,126-ton Pipa in October 2007, and later by Tankyol in April this year.


Hyundai Asan Incurs 32 Bln Won in Losses From Tour Project in 2009

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Hyundai Asan, the operator of suspended tours to Mt. Kumgang in North Korea, incurred operating losses of 32.3 billion won (US$28.4 million) last year and additional monthly losses of about 2 billion won this year, a top company official said on May 11.

   Jang Whan-bin, who heads the firm's tourism and inter-Korean economic cooperation projects, said it has racked up sales losses of several hundred billion won since the tours were suspended almost two years ago.

   Jang said cooperative companies of Hyundai Asan are on the brink of collapse, with their assets confiscated by North Korea estimated to be worth about 323 billion won.

   The official urged the South Korean government to take necessary steps to provide assistance to companies engaged in South-North Korean economic projects.

   The tours, which began in 1998, had been a prominent symbol of reconciliation between the rival states that are still technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a ceasefire, not a peace treaty. Nearly 2 million South Koreans have visited the scenic mountain.

   South Korea suspended the program in 2008 after one of its citizens was shot dead by a North Korean guard after entering a restricted area near the resort.

   Seoul has demanded a state-to-state guarantee of tourist safety, as well as a joint on-site probe into the death before the tours resume. North Korea insists that it has done enough to guarantee safety.