The Pong Su incident began on 16 April 2003 when heroin was smuggled from the Pong Su, a North Korean cargo ship, onto an Australian beach. Australian militaryspecial forces subsequently boarded the Pong Su in Australian territorial waters four days later. The ship was suspected of being involved in smuggling almost 125 kilograms (276 lb) of heroin into Australia with an estimated street value of A$160 million.
The Pong Su (봉수호) was a 349-foot (106 m), 3,743-tonne North Korean-owned ocean freighter registered in Tuvalu, a flag of convenience. Three men arrested on shore were convicted of importing heroin; a fourth man from the ship who landed the heroin and was arrested on shore pleaded guilty; the crew were all acquitted and deported; and after being confiscated the ship was destroyed in 2006.
The three men arrested on shore pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the importation of a commercial quantity of heroin. They were sentenced to between 22 and 24 years imprisonment. They were apparently not of North Korean origin (but from Malaysia and Singapore) and not part of the ship's crew. The fourth man from the landing party pleaded guilty to importing a commercial quantity of heroin (Chinese national).
Drug charges were laid against the ship's entire crew. 27 crew members were discharged on 5 March 2004 by a magistrate on the basis that there was insufficient evidence for them to stand trial. While awaiting deportation, the crew were held in Baxter Detention Centre; during which time they were questioned by federal authorities. They were deported from Australia on 24 June 2004.
Four senior crew members were kept in Australia to face a jury trial:
Choe Dong-song (최동성), 61, the ship's political secretary
Song Man-seon (송만선), 65, the ship's captain
Lee Man-jin (이만진), 51, the first officer
Lee Ju-cheon (이주천), 51, the chief engineer
All four crew members pleaded not guilty at the beginning of their trial in August 2005.
The prosecution case against the four North Korean officers was that they would not have allowed their ship to be stopped in the position it was if they were not aware that the real purpose of their voyage was to smuggle the heroin. The prosecution did not allege any official involvement of the North Korean government, only the officers on board the ship.
On 5 March 2006, a Supreme Court of Victoria jury found the ship's four officers not guilty on all charges. They were subsequently deported. (Political pressure brought to bear on an independent judicial system IMHO)
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