The Mangyongbong-92, a North Korean ship that had transported an orchestra to South Korea for performances marking the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, left Mukho port in Gangwon Province on Saturday without taking on any fuel supplies.

The day before its departure, the North withdrew an earlier request for fuel to the South Korean government, according to the Unification Ministry. The North made the request right after the ship's arrival on Feb. 6.

The ministry had originally intended to provide fuel for the ship as it did during the Busan Asian Games in 2002 but changed its mind after it was pointed out that this could violate international sanctions against the North.

South and North Korean officials kept discussing the matter for four days but failed to agree on conditions. "It seems that during the talks the North decided not to take on fuel in order not to cause any trouble to the South," a ministry official said.

North Korean officials take photographs from the Mangyongbong-92 ferry at a port in Gangwon Province on Saturday. /Newsis

There is speculation that the North had hoped to create a loophole in the international sanctions by asking for fuel supplies even though the ferry had enough fuel to sail home.

North Korean ships are in principle banned from South Korean sea routes since the sinking of the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan in 2010. But the regime asked for permission to use a sea route for the orchestra in an apparent bid to see how far the South is willing to bend the sanctions.

The 114-member Samjiyon Orchestra who arrived in South Korea aboard the ferry returned to the North by land on Monday morning after a performance in Seoul the previous night.
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