Insight: Nampo City

Overview

Nampo city (남포시) is a special city on the west coast of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. It is the site of the largest port in the country and a significant entry and exit point for cargo being imported or exported. This means the city is of great importance to the government in Pyongyang, as it acts as a gateway for the few goods which can still be imported to the country due to sanctions. It’s importance to the government is highlighted by it’s position as a ‘Special City’ and prior to 2004, a ‘Directly-governed City’. The city is located 15km inland (east) from the mouth of the Taedong river and is the main port for goods destined for Pyongyang.


Nampo city

Port

Nampo is primarily a seaport, whilst also being a tourist destination for both domestic and international tourists. The West Sea Barrage lies on the 15km west of Nampo at the mouth of the Taedong river which was seen as a great accomplishment for the country. Estimated to have cost $4bn, the barrage has 3 locks and 36 sluice gates and was designed to keep saltwater and freshwater separate and create a large new source for freshwater and create a more arable environment in the surrounding area. Since it’s construction in the 1980s, the barrage has been seen as a backdrop in the news as a sign of it’s cultural significance in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The port has modern harbour capabilities allowing the accommodation of ships up to 20,000 tonnes. Alongside the seaport, there are numerous light industry buildings in Nampo, primarily focusing on the aquatic and fishing industries.


West Sea Barrage, Nampo

Transport

Nampo is one of the few cities with a direct highway link to the capital. The Youth-Hero motorway connects Pyongyang with Nampo and allows for fast transport between the port and the capital. The huge 28.8 mile motorway built between 1998 and 2000 shows the significance placed on the city by the government, and the importance of it’s port. The city is also served by the Korean State Railway which runs a service directly to Nampo from Pyongyang on the Pyongnam line which continues north to Onchon. Onchon is the site of an airbase which is served on a charter basis by Air Koryo. It is likely that less importance in placed on cargo flights due to the proximity of Nampo to the capital, and the time it takes to transport goods to and from the port by air would be slower than driving it on the motorway or transporting it by rail.


Proximity of Onchon airport to Sunan airport

Conclusion

Nampo is a vitally important link to the outside world for the DPRK. It allows trade with China and other Asian countries and this is a significant source of income and foreign currency for the government in Pyongyang. The development of infrastructure such as a modern harbour and transport links demonstrates how important the city is to the government. Given the sanctions currently in place, Nampo does not operate at capacity and so the infrastructure investment is not fully utilised. Perhaps in the future if sanctions are relaxed, we could see huge amounts of freight return to Nampo and the various other ports around the country, allowing the Pyongnam line and the Youth-Hero motorway to act as vital arteries, moving goods to and from the capital to the outside world.

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