North Korea`s US `trophy` ship is tourist site

N Korea had captured a "trophy" from US in a maritime incident 42 years ago.

Pyongyang: North Korea denies involvement in a deadly attack on a South Korean warship this year, but proudly shows off the "trophy" it captured from the United States in another maritime incident 42 years ago.

The USS Pueblo -- still listed as a commissioned US Navy vessel -- sits docked and open to visitors at a riverside berth in the capital Pyongyang.

A steady flow of tourists, including some Americans, boarded the vessel for a guided tour one day recently.

The price of admission: Watching a lengthy propaganda video that mentions terms like "US imperialist aggressors" and "brazen-faced US imperialists" repeatedly as it recounts what happened on January 23, 1968 and over the next 11 months before the captured crew were released.

Visitors watch the video at small metal tables in a cramped area that might have been the mess hall. There is a faint smell of ship`s grease.

One American was killed and 82 others on the ship were captured and detained until shortly before Christmas that year, when "the enemy kneeled down before the Korean people and made an official apology," the video says.

North Korea said the "armed spy ship" had intruded into its territorial waters off Wonsan, which the US denied. In an official history, the US Navy says the Pueblo was attacked, and that its crew were held "often under inhumane conditions”.

It admits the ship had been assigned to "electronic intelligence collection”.

A US Senate resolution in 2008 said the Pueblo was the first US Navy ship to be "hijacked" by a foreign military in more than 150 years.

The propaganda video says: "The aggressors who lorded it over everywhere in the world were driven out of our country.”

"The myth of the mightiness of the United States was shattered again".

North Korean sailors in blue-and-white uniforms work on the vessel while female guides give the tour.

One guide said the vessel is still seaworthy and has been sailed for repairs.

Two members of the force which seized the ship are still there, as guides, she said.

Parts of the vessel visited by tourists have been preserved largely in their original state.

The captain`s cabin still has a cloth armchair and a typewriter. Another room has about six metal racks where other crewmen slept, but the guide said most sailors lived below deck, where visitors were not allowed to go.

One room is jammed with electronic equipment, and a neighbouring compartment handled encryption, the guide said.

The American captain`s uniform, once-secret cables, and other documents are displayed behind glass.

On the bridge a bookcase holds English-language technical manuals and a copy of "Knight`s Modern Seamanship 13th Edition”.

Several bullet holes attest to the drama over the ship`s capture, and a .50-calibre machine gun is still in place at the stern.

The 53.8-metre (177.5 feet) ship is still painted US Navy grey, but is rusting in places.

While North Korea happily welcomes foreigners to the Pueblo, it rejects accusations that it torpedoed a South Korean warship, the Cheonan, in March.

That attack killed 46 sailors and sharply raised regional tensions.

Seoul and Washington blamed North Korea, citing the findings of a multinational investigation.

A guide on the Pueblo said the Cheonan incident was a "drama directed by the US".

The United States Senate two years ago passed a resolution calling for the return of the Pueblo "as a goodwill gesture from the North Korean people to the American people."

No way, say the North Koreans.

"Even they want it back, they can`t have it because it is our trophy," the guide says.

Bureau Report

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