VLADIVOSTOK • A new ferry between isolated North Korea and Russia has docked for the first time at the Pacific port of Vladivostok, despite calls from the United States for countries to curtail relations with Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile programmes.
The launch of the weekly service linking Vladivostok and the North Korean port of Rajin also came despite North Korea's test-firing of a new type of ballistic missile on Sunday that landed in the sea near Russia.
The ferry's Russian operators say it is purely a commercial venture, but the service's launch on Thursday coincides with what some experts say is a drive by North Korea to build ties with Moscow, in case its closest ally China turns its back.
The service is pitched at Chinese tourists wanting to travel by sea to the Pacific port of Vladivostok, according to the operators.
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China has no ports on the Sea of Japan, so travelling to North Korea and on to Vladivostok is the quickest way of reaching the Russian port city by sea. "It's our business, of our company, without any state subsidies, involvement and help," Mr Mikhail Khmel, the deputy director of InvestStroyTrest, the Russian firm operating the ferry, told reporters.
The new ferry link comes despite recent calls by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for countries to fully implement United Nations sanctions and review their ties with North Korea to pressure it to give up its weapons programmes.
"We call on all nations to fully implement UN Security Council resolutions, and sever or downgrade diplomatic and commercial relations with North Korea," spokesman for the US State Department Katina Adams said when asked about the new ferry service.
Russia, especially the port of Vladivostok, is home to one of the largest overseas communities of North Koreans, who send home much-needed hard currency.