Monday, March 06, 2006

Dictator's Drug Ship

A North Korean official ordered the crew on the Pong Su heroin ship to stop and fight to avoid capture in Australia. Radio messages seized by Australian Federal Police reveal the battle order was made as the Pong Su was being chased along the Victorian coast. The Pong Su sent a message to North Korea saying: "As a soldier for the greatest general we are determined to fight to the last man." It had just dropped 150kg of heroin worth $165 million at Boggaley Creek near Lorne – resulting in Victoria's biggest heroin bust. The Pong Su refused to obey AFP orders to stop and allow police to board it, saying it would have to seek advice from the North Korean Government. US experts on North Korea later gave evidence they had no doubt the North Korean Government of communist dictator Kim Jong-il was involved in the Pong Su drug importation.
HMAS Stuart FFH-153
Faced with the might of Australian warship HMAS Stuart, the Pong Su eventually surrendered after a four-day chase finished north of Sydney in April 2003. A Victorian Supreme Court jury of six men and six women deliberated for 10 days before yesterday finding captain Man Sun Song, 65, political secretary Dong Song Choi, 61, chief mate Man Jin Ri, 51, and chief engineer Ju Chon Ri, 51, not guilty of being involved in the heroin shipment. The four walked free after nearly three years in custody and are expected to return to North Korea within days. Guilty pleas by four other men over the heroin shipment were suppressed until yesterday. Two have already been sentenced to lengthy jail terms – 23 years and 22 years. The end of the seven-month Pong Su trial has enabled the Herald Sun to reveal the North Korean battle order. AFP agent Damien Appleby, who was in charge of the investigation, said radio messages showed some on board were determined not to be captured. "A lot of the stuff on the vessel talked about Australia as the enemy," agent Appleby told Insight. "They talked about fighting to the death in their messages back to the homeland on short-wave radio. "So that's the sort of message they are sending back to people in North Korea, that they are going to fight to the death, to the last man. "We didn't know that prior to boarding the Pong Su, so thank heavens we used an Australian warship and Defence forces to do so." The lifting of suppression orders yesterday has also enabled Insight to report the guilty plea of Ta Song Wong, 40, who used a small rubber dinghy to take 150kg of heroin off the Pong Su near Lorne late on April 15 or early April 16, 2003. A man who left the Pong Su in the dinghy with Wong drowned when it capsized. He has still not been identified. Details of the three men who took delivery of the heroin at Boggaley Creek, on Victoria's Shipwreck Coast, were also suppressed until yesterday. Shore party members Yau Kim Lam, 35, Kiam Fah Teng, 48, and Wee Quay Tan, 35, each pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the heroin operation. Supreme Court judge Murray Kellam jailed Lam for 23 years, with a non-parole period of 16 years, and sentenced Teng to 22 years with a minimum of 15. Justice Kellam said it was the largest importation detected in Victoria and one of the largest in Australia. He warned people tempted to import heroin into Australia, with its large coastline, "will suffer a heavy penalty for their greed". The other two members of the drug smuggling operation are yet to be sentenced.
The Pong Su
Crown Prosecutor John Champion, SC, told the court that political secretary Mr Choi was representing the North Korean Government and that it was inconceivable he didn't sanction the Pong Su heroin operation. He said Mr Choi was likely to have been from a North Korean government intelligence service and was probably the highest-ranking person on board. "He could not have failed to know that the ship was carrying an illicit cargo and further, that the illicit cargo was a narcotic in nature," Mr Champion said. Mr Choi's barrister, John O'Sullivan, chose not to call any witnesses and Mr Choi did not give evidence. Chief mate Mr Ri's lawyer, Nick Papas, didn't call any evidence on behalf of his client. Lawyers for Pong Su Captain, Mr Song, and Mr Ri said their clients had no knowledge of heroin on board. Capt Song told the court the two men who left the ship in a dinghy at Boggaley Creek were not Pong Su crew members. He said they were representatives of a Malaysian company which chartered the ship to sail to Melbourne to pick up a cargo of luxury cars. Capt Song told the court he stopped the Pong Su at Boggaley Creek at the request of the charterers and was told by them that the luxury car contract had been cancelled. He said he did not see the men leave in the dinghy and did not know about the heroin. "As far as he was concerned he was following a legitimate voyage under instructions from these charterers," Capt Song's lawyer, Ian Hayden, told the court. Mr Ri told the court the 4015-tonne freighter stopped close to shore at Boggaley Creek because he needed to change a cylinder head. Mr Champion told the jury AFP agents on board the Tasmanian police launch Van Dieman were initially involved in pursuing the Pong Su along the Victorian coast after some of the heroin was found at Boggaley Creek. He said an AFP agent made a number of radio requests for the ship to dock in Melbourne.
The Pong Su
"When the initial direction was issued for the ship to return to Melbourne, (the agent) was told by a person on the radio that they could not return to Melbourne," Mr Champion said. "The speaker initially indicated he would not comply with any instructions prior to seeking advice from the captain and his Government." Evidence was given during the trial of the four officers that Capt Song had knowledge of all radio transmissions to and from the ship, and those sent had his authority. The message from North Korea ordering the Pong Su to stop and fight was received at 9am on April 18, 2003. That was while the ship was being chased by police and two days before it was intercepted by HMAS Stuart and boarded by heavily-armed SAS troops. A search of the Pong Su found written transcripts of radio messages sent from the Pong Su to North Korea. "As a soldier for the greatest general we are determined to fight to the last man," one message said. Messages between the ship and the North Korean embassy in Canberra were also found. The Pong Su received another message from North Korea at 5.10pm on April 18, instructing it to disguise any involvement with North Korea by telling Australian authorities it was a Tuvalu-registered ship. It had been re-registered on the Pacific island of Tuvalu on March 25, 2003, less than a month before its load of heroin was taken ashore at Boggaley Creek, 14km west of Lorne.

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