Ongoing Arms Transfer Activity at Najin Port
- The latest satellite imagery of Najin Port shows indicators of continued activity related to the transfer of North Korean munitions to Russia, suggesting that at least six trips have been made by sea between the two countries since late August.
- The imagery comes days after the U.S. government’s announcement that the port is being used to load North Korean munitions onto Russian vessels for transport to Dunay, Russia before the goods travel further inland by rail.
- The ongoing arms transfer activity at Najin supplements rail traffic at the Tumangang-Khasan rail crossing between North Korea and Russia. These activities come after weeks of concerns over increased North Korean and Russian arms cooperation and directly violate multiple UN Security Council resolutions.
- With the public exposure detailing these operations, there is a reasonable chance that North Korea and Russia will seek to obscure these sea transfers by changing ports or ships, or by some other means.
Transfer of North Korean Munitions by Sea
On Friday, October 13, 2023, the U.S. government announced that North Korea had provided Russia with “more than 1,000 containers of military equipment and munitions,” along with images detailing the transfer routes of the shipments.1
Subsequent reports by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and NK News further identified that at least two Russian-flagged vessels made multiple trips—at least five—between Najin (Rajin) and the small Russian navy facility at Konyushkovo 1.5 kilometers south of Dunay, Russia, since late August.2 The latest observed trip between these locations was made by a vessel RUSI identified as the Maria, which was seen at Najin on October 10, 2023, and at Dunay on October 14, 2023.3 The RUSI report identified Pier No. 3, the northernmost pier at the port, as being used for unloading containers from Russian vessels, and Pier No. 2, the middle pier, as being used for the loading of North Korean containers onto the Russian vessels before they leave for Dunai.4
Latest Development at Najin Port
Latest satellite images of Najin Port from October 13, 2023, and October 16, 2023, show indications that suggest another trip by a Russian vessel was likely made over the past four days.
At Pier No. 3, the northernmost pier at the port, there is a notable increase in the six-meter shipping containers between October 13 and 16. This suggests that another vessel likely unloaded the containers originating from Russia over the weekend. While the images do not reveal what is being unloaded, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Russia may have shipped weapons of its own to North Korea.5
Conversely, at Pier No. 2—where Russian vessels are believed to have loaded North Korean containers before leaving for Dunay—approximately 58 six-meter shipping containers observed in the October 13, 2023, image, are no longer present in the October 16, 2023, image. The decrease in observed containers suggests the loading of these containers onto a vessel.
The ongoing arms transfer activity at Najin supplements rail traffic at the Tumangang-Khasan rail crossing between North Korea and Russia. These activities come after weeks of concerns over increased North Korean and Russian arms cooperation and are in direct violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions.
With the public exposure detailing these operations, there is a reasonable chance that North Korea and Russia will seek to obscure these sea transfers by changing ports or ships, or by some other means.
Sometime between October 10 and 11 the Mangyongbong-92 passenger/cargo ferry (만경봉 92호) entered the drydock north of the three piers and, as of October 16, remains there. The vessel is likely undergoing maintenance although it is too early to determine the exact nature of these activities. It is unclear whether the vessel, when maintenance is completed, will be used to supplement Russian-North Korean trade activity.
The Mangyongbong-92 was used to transport passengers and cargo between North Korea and Japan from 1992 until 2006 when Japan banned the ship from its waters in response to a long-range missile test and speculation that the vessel was being used to smuggle drugs and parts for North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.6 Since the ban, the vessel has been used intermittently to support North Korea’s limited tourism industry centering around Mount Kumgang and shuttle North Korean Olympic athletes to and from South Korea.7 Since then, the Magyongbong-92 has been docked at Wonsan.8
- U.S. Mission to the UN (@USUN), Twitter, October 13, 2023, https://twitter.com/USUN/status/1712874869707219266?t=uYTfTAKAYzupodmYvNDwMQ&s=19. ↩
- James Byrne, Joseph Byrne, and Gary Somerville, “The Orient Express: North Korea’s Clandestine Supply Route to Russia,” RUSI, October 15, 2023, https://rusi.org/explore-our-research/publications/commentary/report-orient-express-north-koreas-clandestine-supply-route-russia; Anton Sokolin, “North Korea sent mass shipment to weapons, ammo to Russia: US,” NK News, October 14, 2023; Anton Sokolin and Colin Zwirko, “ Secure Russian naval base processed alleged North Korean arms shipments: Imagery,” NK News, October 16, 2023, https://www.nknews.org/pro/secure-russian-naval-base-processed-alleged-north-korean-arms-shipments-imagery/. ↩
- Byrne, Byrne, and Somerville, “The Orient Express: North Korea’s Clandestine Supply Route to Russia.” ↩
- NGA nautical charts label the piers at Najin port, from south to north, Pier No. 1, Pier No. 2, and Pier No. 3; For RUSI report, see: Byrne, Byrne, and Somerville, “The Orient Express: North Korea’s Clandestine Supply Route to Russia.” ↩
- Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Joyce Sohyun Lee, “North Korea may be sending arms to Russia for Ukraine war, images suggest,” The Washington Post, October 16, 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/10/16/north-korea-russia-weapons-ukraine-war/. ↩
- Hyonhee Shin, “N. Korean Olympics ferry tacks past sanctions with karaoke, ice cream on board,” Reuters, February 6, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/olympics-2018-northkorea-ferry/n-korean-olympics-ferry-tacks-past-sanctions-with-karaoke-ice-cream-on-board-idUKL4N1PI1JN; Emma Chanlett-Avery, “North Korean Supporters in Japan: Issues for U.S. Policy,” Congressional Research Service, November 7, 2003, https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/RL/RL32137/2. ↩
- Shin, “N. Korean Olympics ferry tacks past sanctions with karaoke, ice cream on board”; “Magyongbong 92 to be put to use in Rason for tourism,” North Korean Economy Watch, August 7, 2011, https://www.nkeconwatch.com/2011/08/07/mangyongbong-92-to-be-put-to-use-in-rason/. ↩
- Gareth Johnson, “North Korea’s brief, surreal experiment with passenger cruises,” NK News, July 2, 2021, https://www.nknews.org/2021/07/north-koreas-brief-surreal-experiment-with-passenger-cruises/. ↩