Pyongyang (N Korea): If there was ever any doubt about what happened to the only US Navy ship that is being held by a foreign government, North Korea has cleared it up. It`s in Pyongyang. And it looks like it`s here to stay.
With a fresh coat of paint and a new home along the Pothong River, the USS Pueblo, a spy ship seized off North Korea`s east coast in the late 1960s, is expected to be unveiled this week as the centrepiece of a renovated war museum to commemorate what North Korea calls "Victory Day," the 60th anniversary this Saturday of the signing of the armistice that ended hostilities in the Korean War.
The ship is North Korea`s greatest Cold War prize, a potent symbol of how the country has stood up to the great power of the United States, once in an all-out ground war and now with its push to develop the nuclear weapons and sophisticated missiles it needs to threaten the US mainland.
Many of the crew who served on the vessel, then spent 11 months in captivity in North Korea, want to bring the Pueblo home. Throughout its history, they argue, the Navy`s motto has been "don`t give up the ship."
The Pueblo, in fact, is still listed as a commissioned US Navy vessel, the only one being held by a foreign nation. But with relations generally fluctuating in a narrow band between bad to dangerously bad, the United States has made little effort to get it back. At times, outsiders weren`t even sure where North Korea was keeping the ship or what it planned to do with it.
Requests for interviews with the captain of one of the North Korean ships involved in the attack were denied, and officials here have been tight lipped about their plans before the formal unveiling.
The Pueblo incident is a painful reminder of miscalculation and confusion, as well as the unresolved hostilities that continue to keep the two countries in what seems to be a permanent state of distrust and preparation for another clash, despite the truce that ended the 1950-1953 war.
Already more than 40 years old and only lightly armed so it wouldn`t look conspicuous or threatening as it carried out its intelligence missions, the USS Pueblo was attacked and easily captured on January 23, 1968.
Surrounded by a half dozen enemy ships with MiG fighter jets providing air cover, the crew was unable to put up much of a fight. It scrambled to destroy intelligence materials, but soon discovered it wasn`t well prepared for even that.
A shredder aboard the Pueblo quickly became jammed with the piles of papers anxious crew members shoved into it.
They tried burning the documents in waste baskets, but smoke quickly filled the cabins. And there were not enough weighted bags to toss all the secret material overboard.