What is really in those fuel tanks?

Monday 6th April, 2015


In North Korea, where fuel is scarce, one wonders what laps against the walls of those tanks.

Recently, according to inside sources in Chongjin, North Hamkyong Province, fuel prices in North Korea are skyrocketing. There are only one or two gas stations in each province or city for public use. Because of this, drivers in North Korea always carry an extra drum of fuel.

The black market price of fuel, however, is even more exorbitant – the price of fuel in these situations is determined only by the person who sells it. Fuel or oil is one of the most expensive products that are exchangeable for money, and is very difficult to come by. Although the government knows the fuel shortage situation very well, fuel continues to be rationed to the Korean People’s Army at specific times.

However, the ones who benefit for the fuel provisions to the KPA is not the government, but rather, individual soldiers, smugglers and consumers. Soldiers use it as a means of income, selling to to smugglers, who in turn sell it on markets.

Lee Myung-kwan, who escaped in March 2013 and is now settled in the South, was a driver in Training Base 108 of the KPA.

Lee testifies: “If you observe all the faces of the soldiers of the KPA, you will notice that the ones with the most colour and life belong to drivers. In North Korea, fuel is as valuable and precious as gold. Drivers siphon off fuel and exchange it for money. Some drivers bribe the provision authorities to exceed the amount of fuel rationed so that they can make even more money.

“Drivers are regular customers of those authorities and soldiers that are in charge of the provision of fuel. In addition, soldiers who work with transportation gear or machinery also bribe the provision officers. Of these soldiers, drivers of cars transporting elite officials and truck drivers transporting army supplies are generally the wealthiest. For these soldiers, serving in the army would be considered a personal gain, rather than a national duty.”

Another escapee, Bae Myung-chul, was the chief engineer in the 12th Naval Corps.

Bae says, “If war ever breaks out on the peninsula, there are actually very few warships that can be dispatched. This is because the fuel intended for use on the ships are siphoned off and sold on markets by solders. At the time of the Cheonan sinking, there was an emergency call to mobilize an entire fleet, but the moored warships were absolutely paralyzed. It was only after some time that the reason for this was finally discovered.


“The fuel tanks in those warships were filled with water. An investigation was launched on the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces. As a result, many soldiers were framed and called in for interrogation.

“According to those soldier’s confessions, the soldiers sold the fuel from the reserve tanks of the warships as a way to earn money and fight hunger, and in turn, replenished the tanks with water to avoid getting caught.”

Bae continued, “Authorities use a metal rod to check the inside of tanks. If there’s oil on the rod, they don’t suspect anything.”

It would be difficult for authorities to thoroughly check the inside of tanks, and relying on the rods would be an insufficient means to do so; the soldiers had been long taking advantage of the fact that a film of oil floats on the surface of the water.


Reporting by Lee, Cheol-Mu.

Read in Korean.

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