By Samantha Day • 31 March 2020 • 19:12
MORE than 100 North Korean smuggling ships lie anchored offshore as Kim Jong-un fears they may bring in coronavirus, it has been revealed.
Satellite photos show the huge ghost fleet sitting off the coast – as Pyongyang continues to claim it has no confirmed cases of Covid-19.
Experts at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a respected London-based think tank, gathered the images as part of Project Sandstone – an effort to analyse and account Kim’s black market shipping trade.
North Korea relies heavily on its fleet of cargo ships to smuggle raw materials such as coal and iron ore which are then sold abroad in breach of economic sanctions.
Aerial pictures show an “unprecedented number” of ships anchored off the coast – in particular around the ports of Nampo and Chongjin.
Experts said the new measures are likely a reaction to the global outbreak of the Coronavirus.
Kim is believed to have recalled the fleet and anchored it off the coast in bid to stop the spread of Covid-19.
According to James Byrne a RUSI researcher “As the Coronavirus crisis escalated, we began to see a large uptick in vessels returning to North Korean ports on satellite imagery.
“Throughout late February and early March, ports such as Nampo became very busy.
“These ships were not moving and appeared to be idled for weeks – we’d never seen anything like this in North Korea before.
“I do not think there is any other feasible explanation than the fact that they – one, don’t want anyone catching the virus, and two, that they may even be quarantining sailors aboard these ships out at sea.”
It is feared Kim’s regime lacks even basic medicines and equipment to treat the country’s 25 million citizens – let alone tackle a pandemic.
Coronavirus could be devastating for average North Koreans who already face health problems such as malnutrition.
North Korea still claims that they have zero confirmed cases for Coronavirus despite sharing a large land border with China, where the disease was first discovered late in 2019.
And the nation’s neighbour South Korea was also once one of the epicentres of the outbreak.
Almost 800,000 people have been confirmed infected worldwide, with nearly 38,000 deaths.
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