A New Effort to Conceal Activity at Nampho Port

Recent commercial satellite imagery indicates activity continues across North Korea’s Nampho Port despite a fresh dusting of snow. An image from December 17 shows a full container yard, construction activity in the boat repair area where the second submersible test barge is berthed, a busy coal yard, and continued work in the petroleum, oil and lubricants (POL) storage area.

The high level of activity around the port area underscores Nampho’s role as one of North Korea’s most important points for import and export of goods. Moreover, the new enclosure being installed at the marine repair way suggests an expectation for activity to pick up in the coming months, activity North Korea prefers to conceal from satellite surveillance.

Marine Repair Way

North Korea’s second of only two submersible missile test barges remains in the secure boat basin where it has been stored for several years with no known usage.[1]

Work is underway to construct a large building, likely an enclosure, around one of the two marine repair ways, used in the past to service the submersible missile test barge. Nampho has two such repair ways:  one that employs a floating drydock for moving vessels onto the repair ways, and one that is configured with an inclined railway to pull boats out of the water. The new enclosure, likely for a repair hall, is over the latter one and would conceal future repair work from satellite observation.

Figure 1. Construction on possible enclosure underway at Nampho’s main repair way. Image Pleiades NEO © Airbus DS 2023. For media options, please contact [email protected].

Container Port

The container port appears busy, with several hundred containers situated across the yard. A secure area in the yard, created during the COVID-19 pandemic and enclosed by a wall of containers, appears to still be in use, although barriers that existed in other parts of the yard have gone.

Fresh tire tracks in the snow indicate vehicle traffic throughout the yard, although few vehicles were present when the image was captured at 11:32 a.m. local time on December 17.

A small number of containers remain in the northern part of the yard, and more than 20 trucks are parked in the yard of a nearby trucking company.

Three ships are docked at the main wharf, and two additional ships are berthed alongside the yard. Tire tracks indicate loading or unloading activity has been taking place for at least one ship.

Figure 2. Vehicles and tire tracks at container port. Image Pleiades NEO © Airbus DS 2023. For media options, please contact [email protected].

Coal Port

The coal port is also active, with bulk carriers present amid a noticeable increase in activity around the coal bins in the last couple of years. The coal port is comprised of two large coal bunkers. The smaller measures 30 by 215 meters and is serviced by two rail tracks that pass to either side. The coal from this bunker is moved to bulk carriers by trucks, and loaders move the coal to these vessels berthed at the quay.. This quay also supports the loading of other cargo.

The larger of the bunkers measures 60 by 400 meters and is divided along its center line by a conveyor used to move coal to a bunkering wharf, where coal can be deposited directly into bulk cargo vessels. In the immediate post-COVID-19 period, cargo vessels were observed arriving only occasionally to take on stores. In 2021, vessels were seen at the bunkering pier in April, June and September. Early 2022 showed a similar pattern of ship loading, but by June 2022, the pace had picked up, showing an increasing trend in exports. Since June 2023, it has been common to see two vessels present—one at the quay and the other at the bunkering wharf—while others are anchored in the roadstead. Further, the coal stocks have been fluctuating as their amounts are depleted then quickly replenished, suggesting trade is on a clear uptick.

Figure 3. Activity at Nampho’s coal port on imagery from December 17, 2023. Image Pleiades NEO © Airbus DS 2023. For media options, please contact [email protected].

POL Storage Area

Work has continued in the POL storage area, with seven new tanks added over the past year. The bases for most had been laid well in advance of the assembly of the tanks, and from this, another two are expected, likely in the spring. Construction material and vehicles continue to be stored in a yard alongside the new tanks, and a new building has been constructed. These items, in addition to the new POL bunkering pier, which remains incomplete, point to an anticipated increase in POL imports.

Figure 4. Continued activity at POL storage area on imagery from December 17, 2023. Image Pleiades NEO © Airbus DS 2023. For media options, please contact [email protected].

  1. [1]

    The other is the main submersible missile test barge berthed at the Sinpho South Shipyard, which has been used to facilitate several of North Korea’s previous sea-based missile test launches.

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