Yesterday an Australian F-111 bombed and destroyed the Pong Su – the North Korean
vessel which helped bring 150kg of heroin into Victoria back in 2003. According to the AFP media release, the Pong Su
“was unseaworthy, posed a serious risk to the environment and that its
condition was such that its custody or maintenance by the Commonwealth
would involve an expense that would be likely to be greater than its
value”. But the
government’s little exercise has got some people a
little hot under the collar:


Angela Stengel writes:

Can anyone shed some light on why the North Korean ship caught
importing heroin, the Pong Su, was sunk rather than, say, used for
scrap metal? Maybe it’s commonly known that this is how it works, but I’m confused
about why this complete waste of resources wasn’t the story. The best
explanation I could find was at The Courier Mail who said: “The Pong Su will be sunk within weeks, possibly by allowing the
Australian Navy to blow it out of the water as target practice. Other
options being considered for scuttling the 4015-tonne Pong Su include
being torpedoed by a Navy submarine or getting a Navy warship to fire a
harpoon missile at it.” Seems like a massive game of cowboys and indians. Will a ‘Clean Up
Australia’s Oceans’ campaign be needed in a few decades time to undo
this Navy practice?

And
another reader writes:

Was this vessel in such poor and un-seaworthy condition that it could
not have been donated to say – Norfolk Islanders or Torres Strait
Aboriginal communities as an inter-island freighter? You know, like
the old Burns Philp coastal freighters that supplied Island communities
surrounding Australia…which from my seafaring days were commonly known
as “rust buckets”. Could the millions of dollars spent on impounding this vessel been
better spent on refurbishing it? Making it seaworthy?
Alternatively, if the Pong Su had to be sunk, could it not have been
holed over a reef closer to shore as a refuge for sealife?

The rationale offered by the Howard Government for the sinking of the
Pong Su is that “Drug smugglers have to realize that there are serious
consequences for importing drugs into Australia…including confiscation
and destruction of vessels and any means of
transportation.”

Qantas, Singapore Airlines, United Airlines, Emirates, JAL, The Patrick
Corporation, et, al all unwittingly transport more drugs into
Australia than any lowly Korean freighter. We don’t take a
Singapore Airlines 747 or a hundred thousand tonne container vessel and
use them for RAAF target practice because a few pounds of illegal drugs
were found in the luggage or the consigned cargo of some dopey
drug smuggler. Let’s punish the ship! If 150 kilos of heroin arrived in
the firewall
lining of a million dollar Ferrari – would they destroy it? Let’s face
it. The sinking of the Pong Su was a big F U to the North
Korean Government – it was not a statement of Australia’s zero
tolerance policy towards drug smuggling. In was a self-serving,
convenient, politically expeditious and hypocritical display of
regional smugness and as such was unbecoming of the nation Australia
is.

Peter Fray

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