March 23, 2006

Australia bombs impounded N-Korean drug ship

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Two Australian fighter jets bombed and
sank an impounded North Korean cargo ship on Thursday in what
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said was a strong message to
Pyongyang about its involvement in drug running.

The 4,000-tonne ship the Pong Su had been impounded since
2003, when it led the Australian navy on a 1,100 km (680 mile)
chase off the southeastern coast after being spotted unloading
part of a 150 kg (330 lb) shipment of heroin at a secluded

The ship came to a spectacular end on Thursday when two
Royal Australian Air Force frontline F-111 jet bombers fired
missiles into the vessel during target practice at a secret
location offshore.

"It is appropriate that we publicly demonstrate our outrage
at what has happened by sinking this ship," Downer said.

Four Pong Su crew members pleaded guilty to drug smuggling
charges, with two sentenced to 23 and 22 years in jail and two
yet to be sentenced. But the ship's captain and three officers
were sent back to North Korea earlier this month after being
found not guilty of aiding the drug operation.

Downer said the heroin, worth about A$160 million ($115
million), would have provided four million hits of heroin on
Australian streets.

He said Australia remained concerned that the North Korean
government was involved in the smuggling operation to help
support its failing economy - accusations rejected by Pyonyang.

Downer said Australia was determined to publicly sink the
ship as a message to North Korea and other countries that they
must make sure they do not support drug trafficking.

"It is very important that the North Korean government
makes sure, in future, that none of its ships are engaged in
these sorts of activities," Downer told reporters in Adelaide.