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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 March 2006, 15:05 GMT
N Korean heroin ship sunk by jet
Pong Su explodes after being bombed by F-111 jet
An Australian Air Force F-111 jet used the ship for target practice
A North Korean cargo ship that was used to smuggle heroin into Australia has been sunk by an Australian fighter jet.

An F-111 aircraft bombed the Pong Su during target practice on Thursday at a secret location offshore, police said.

Australian troops seized the ship in 2003 after spotting it unloading part of a huge heroin shipment at a beach.

The Australian government said the bombing was a warning to North Korea to halt its involvement in drug smuggling - an allegation Pyongyang rejects.

"It is appropriate that we publicly demonstrate our outrage at what has happened by sinking this ship," Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said.

Captain cleared

"We are concerned about possible links between the North Korean ship and the North Korean government."

The Pong Su's cargo of heroin, worth about US$115 million (66 million), would have provided four million hits of the drug on Australian streets, Mr Downer said.

The Pong Su begins to sink
The ship was towed to a secret location off Australia's eastern coast

Earlier this month, an Australian jury cleared the captain of the Pong Su and three officers of involvement in an international drug ring.

But four crew members who were involved in transporting the heroin from ship to shore pleaded guilty to drug charges.

Two have been sentenced to 22 and 23 years in prison and the other two are awaiting sentence.

The 3,500-tonne Pong Su was used to smuggle in more than 125 kilograms of heroin.

High-sea chase

It had anchored off the town of Lorne in Victoria state while the cargo was carried ashore by dinghy.

It was seized in April 2003 after a four-day chase by the Australian navy.

Earlier this week, the freighter was towed out of Sydney Harbour to a location 140km (90 miles) off the coast of eastern Australia, the Australian Federal Police said.

The fighter jet then dropped the bomb that sank the ship, the police added.

The Pong Su
The Pong Su was found carrying a huge cargo of heroin

Although North Korea has denied any link to the smuggling operation, Mr Downer said it was hard to imagine a shipping company acting on its own in Pyongyang's Stalinist-style economy.

"I mean this isn't, after all, a private sector economy where private companies are doing things on their own accord," Mr Downer said.

"North Korea has been involved in illicit drug trade, North Korea has been involved in illicit financial dealings, and North Korea has been involved in the illicit trade in WMD (weapons of mass destruction) technology over quite some years," he added.

Australia and the United States have said the case of the Pong Su strengthens their suspicions that Pyongyang deals in drugs to help support its failing economy.




SEE ALSO:
N Koreans cleared over heroin
06 Mar 06 |  Asia-Pacific


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