Recent commercial satellite imagery of the Nampho Port, one of North Korea’s largest commercial ports, shows that the petroleum, oil, and lubricant (POL) storage area is being expanded again.
Three new, larger storage tanks are currently under construction, which, when complete, will mean five new tanks will be added this year. This is the latest in a string of improvements over the past two years that indicate Nampho, with its easy access to the West Sea, is one of the country’s most important import points for oil and petroleum.
Three New, Larger Tanks
Work to construct three new, larger POL storage tanks began in May this year in an area that had previously been the location of two POL tanks and six tank bases. One of the two preexisting tanks appears to have been removed in May and reinstalled just days later at the northernmost end of the site.
The six tank bases were then removed, and by mid-June, three larger bases were installed in their place. As of August 31, progress has been made on constructing two of the larger tanks, each approximately 28 meters in diameter, compared to approximately 21 meters in diameter of the smaller tanks.
These are not the first new tanks to be added to the Nampho POL storage area this year. In the spring, two tanks, approximately 17 meters in diameter, were added to an area closer to the river. The two tanks sit alongside a larger 34-meter tank that was erected in late 2022.
On an adjacent site, a new POL tank was added in late 2021, and late last year, another base was added for a subsequent tank.
There is still considerable room for expansion of the POL storage facility at Nampho. In addition to a large agricultural area adjacent to the site, there are still several open bases for tanks.
As of August 31, work appears to be taking place in one such area that has four bases for tanks of approximately 31 meters in diameter. A crane appears to be moving blocks into place around the outside of one of the tank bases, while other bases appear to have construction material upon them.
Figure 1a. Overview of Nampho port POL storage depot on imagery from November 4, 2021. Satellite image © 2022 Maxar Technologies. All rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected].; Figure 1b. Overview of activity at Nampho port POL storage depot on imagery from August 31, 2023. Image Pleiades © CNES 2023, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected].
The new tanks could be used to expand the capacity of chemicals currently in storage at the site, for example, allowing it to hold a larger volume of petroleum. Alternatively, they could be used to store chemicals not presently kept in Nampho. Either way, the work underscores the growing importance of Nampho as a POL storage site and North Korea’s reliance on ship-borne chemical acquisition.
At the eastern end of Nampho Port, activity continues at the commercial container port, as has been observed throughout most of the pandemic period. In multiple satellite images captured in the last two months, the container load at the port has increased and decreased, indicating containers are arriving and departing the port on a regular basis. The temporary container walls built during the pandemic era are still in place.
Of note, there are several red items neatly stacked alongside the river, walled off from the rest of the site. It is unclear what these goods are or whether they were just offloaded or waiting to be loaded for export.
Figure 2a. Overview of container port area on imagery from July 21, 2023. Image © 2023 Planet Labs, PBC cc-by-nc-sa 4.0. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected].; Figure 2b. Overview of activity at container port area on September 4, 2023. Image © 2023 Planet Labs, PBC cc-by-nc-sa 4.0. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected].