Pubdate: Tue, 07 Mar 2006
Source: Herald Sun (Australia)
Copyright: 2006 Herald and Weekly Times
Author: Keith Moor
Bookmark: (Heroin)


POSSIBLE North Korean Government involvement in the Pong Su heroin 
importation demanded urgent discussions at the highest level.

Relations between Australia and the secretive communist regime, run 
by North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, were already strained.

The rogue Stalinist state had earlier been named by US President 
George Bush as a member of the Axis of Evil, along with Iran and Iraq.

Repeated refusals by those on board the fleeing Pong Su to pull into 
port meant police had an international diplomatic incident on their hands.

Australian Federal Police agent Damien Appleby, who was in charge of 
the Pong Su investigation, said none of the vessels available to 
police were able to stop the 4015-tonne freighter.

"With a vessel that big, unless they allow a police boat to come 
alongside and allow boarding there is nothing we can do -- and the 
Pong Su ignored all our requests to do that," agent Appleby said.

"We made a lot of phone calls about how we might board the Pong Su if 
it continued not to co-operate.

"Basically, we discovered there was no civilian authority which could 
assist us."

Three police launches from Tasmania and New South Wales had already 
failed to stop the Pong Su as it fled up the Victorian and NSW coasts.

R ADIO messages from the Pong Su to the AFP indicated that the vessel 
was not stopping and was on its way to the Solomons.

Heroin from the Pong Su had already been seized in Victoria and the 
AFP desperately wanted to stop what was a floating crime scene.

At that stage the AFP didn't know about the Pong Su crew having been 
ordered to fight to avoid capture. But it did know it would take more 
than its own resources to safely stop and secure the North Korean freighter.

So the AFP contacted the Federal Government and asked the Australian 
Defence Force to step in.

The Federal Government quickly agreed and arranged for Royal 
Australian Navy warship HMAS Stuart  to intercept the Pong Su.

It made radio contact with the vessel at 5.53am on April 20, 2003 
identifying itself as an Australian navy vessel and ordering the Pong 
Su to change course and adopt a speed of six knots to make boarding easier.

"This is Australian warship: I intend to board you," the radio 
message from the Stuart  to the Pong Su said.

T HE Pong Su  didn't take the threat too seriously at first, 
replying: "Waiting one hour please, over."

The Stuart replied: "I still intend to board you."

To which the Pong Su replied: "At present now my crew members now 
sleeping now so waiting some moment, over."

The Stuart said: "No, sir, please wake them up. Rig pilot ladder 
starboard side, over."

It then asked the Pong Su  to get all its crew up on deck near the 
funnel so they could be seen from on board the Stuart

"The captain is washing, washing and eating now so waiting some 
moment," the Pong Su said.

The Stuart replied: "No, sir. Get them to the funnel NOW."

The Pong Su crew did not appear on deck, so heavily armed SAS 
members, 4th Battalion Royal Australian tactical assault soldiers and 
navy clearance divers started boarding it from HMAS Stuart  at 7.34am.

They simultaneously slid down ropes from a naval Seahawk helicopter 
and boarded the Pong Su from inflatable rafts.

"At 7.41am it was reported that the bridge of the MV Pong Su  had 
been secured," HMAS Stuart Cdr David Greaves said.

"Subsequent actions by the boarding party were to secure the 
remainder of the crew and vessel to permit the safe embarkation of 
AFP and Customs officers. AFP and Customs boarded by boat at 8.34am."

Not a shot was fired as the 30 Pong Su members surrendered  so much 
for their vow to battle to the death to avoid capture in Australia.

An official in North Korea  police were not able to establish 
who  had ordered them to stop and fight two days into the Australian 
authorities' four-day pursuit of ship.

Pong Su  captain Man Sun Song, 65, admitted during his trial to 
having ignored requests by Australian authorities to stop and allow boarding.

"I got an instruction from the company not to follow the police 
vessel's instructions, and just go to Solomon Islands," Capt Song said.

Suspected North Korean Government involvement meant various 
Australian agencies and departments were involved in the Pong Su 
investigation for months.

This approach was adopted because of political sensitivities 
surrounding possible North Korean Government involvement.

It involved high-level consultation between the AFP and certain 
agencies, including the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the 
Department of Immigration, the Australian Defence Force, Department 
of Prime Minister and Cabinet, intelligence agencies and state police forces.

North Korean ambassador Chon Jae-hong was summoned by DFAT officials 
in Canberra on May 2, 2003 to discuss his Government's alleged link 
to the drug shipment.

That came a day after US Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner claimed 
the North Korean Government was behind the plot to smuggle heroin in 
on the Pong Su.

The US State Department's 2002 International Narcotics Control 
Strategy Report accused the North Korean Government of being involved 
in drug trafficking.

"The Democratic People's Republic of Korea Government, it is alleged, 
illicitly produces narcotic drugs and traffics in them to earn 
foreign exchange," it said.

The US report said investigations of large heroin shipments to Taiwan 
and Japan revealed there had been a North Korean Government connection.

"Police interrogation of suspects apprehended while trafficking in 
illicit drugs developed credible reports of North Korean boats 
engaged in transporting heroin, and uniformed North Korean personnel 
transferring drugs from North Korean vessels to traffickers' boats," it said.

"These reports raise the question whether the North Korean Government 
cultivates opium illicitly, refines opium into heroin and 
manufactures methamphetamine drugs in North Korea as a 
state-organised and directed activity, with the objective of 
trafficking . . . to earn foreign exchange."

The North Korean Government refused AFP requests to assist in its 
Pong Su investigation.

U S and Australian experts on North Korea gave evidence in the Pong 
Su trial  much of which the jury was not allowed to hear  that they 
had no doubt the North Korean Government was involved in importing 
heroin on the ship.

One of them, senior Asian studies policy analyst Balbina Hwang, told 
the Herald Sun that Pyongyang had a long history of drug smuggling.

"Given the authoritarian controls in place throughout North Korea, 
illegal activities are not conducted by a rogue organisation 
operating independently of the Government," Ms Hwang said.

"They are sanctioned and run by the regime.

"Since 1977, more than 20 North Korean diplomats, agents and trade 
officials have been implicated, detained or arrested in 
drug-smuggling operations in more than a dozen countries.

"The Japanese Government reports North Korea is the largest exporter 
of illegal drugs to Japan, providing a possible $7 billion profit for 
the North Korean regime."

Faced with a strongly unco-operative North Korean Government, the 
AFP, not surprisingly, was unable to get any admissible evidence of 
North Korean Government involvement in the Pong Su heroin importation.

But the AFP did identify the Asian international crime gang 
responsible for planning what is still Victoria's biggest heroin seizure.

I F the North Korean Government was involved, then it was working 
with this syndicate, which has connections in several lands, 
including China, Taiwan, Cambodia and Vietnam.

The AFP believes the Pong Su delivery was a test by the gang to see 
whether smuggling using an ocean-going freighter would work.

Had it succeeded, AFP intelligence suggests the syndicate planned to 
stage many more and much larger heroin importations to Australia's 
southern coast.

The Pong Su  was carrying 150kg of high-grade heroin worth $165 million.

A dinghy ferrying the heroin from the Pong Su to the beach at 
Boggaley Creek, 14km west of Lorne, broke down and capsized in April 2003.

One of the two men in the dinghy drowned and 25kg of heroin was lost.

Two packages of heroin weighing 50kg were seized from two members of 
the syndicate's shore party the next morning and three packages 
weighing 75kg were found buried near Boggaley Creek three weeks later.

AFP intelligence suggests international crime syndicates are 
examining shore landings as a preferred method of smuggling drugs to Australia.

The Pong Suimportation was the first known use of the southern coast 
as a drop-off point.

Previous AFP drug investigations using shore landings have occurred 
on the continent's western and eastern coasts.

The Pong Su  steamed along the west coast before heading east and 
anchoring at Boggaley Creek. AFP intelligence suggests the Pong Su 
took this unconventional route to avoid surveillance deployed to 
detect people smugglers.

The AFP expects attempts to get drugs into Australia in a similar 
manner will increase.

It has identified organised and well-financed trans-national crime 
groups which are keen to explore and use means of importation that 
lack the risks associated with the usual courier and cargo-container methods.

The advent of stricter border security at air and sea ports after 
acts of terrorism around the world has made shore landings more attractive.

Australia's estimated 37,000km of coastline is an extremely enticing 
lure for drug importers wanting to avoid scrutiny at airports or the 
greatly increased resort by Customs to X-raying containers.

AFP agent Appleby said the Asian drug syndicate involved in planning 
the Pong Su  importation had the capacity to deal in tonnes of heroin.

He said he had no doubt the freighter's trip to Australia with 150kg 
of heroin was a trial run to test the route and shore-landing method.

"If it had worked then the syndicate would have sent much larger 
shipments of heroin in future," agent Appleby said.

H E said the syndicate had an established drug distribution network 
in Australia capable of getting shipments on to the street quickly.

AFP intelligence suggests that in the past it has provided the 
intended Melbourne and Sydney buyers of the Pong Su heroin with drugs 
through different methods.

Agent Appleby rejected reports that the Pong Su heroin was to be 
distributed by Melbourne's father-and-son drug team of Lewis and 
Jason Moran, both of whom were shot dead during the underworld war.

Capt Song and three of his crew were cleared by a Supreme Court jury this week.

Four other men have pleaded guilty to the Pong Su  importation.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman