The North Korean cargo-passenger ship Mangyongbong is back at its port after undergoing what appears to be a regular inspection.
The vessel's return to the eastern port of Wonsan raises speculation that North Korea is making it ready for the possible resumption of its visits to Japan.
The Mangyongbong used to operate between Wonsan and Japan's Niigata, carrying supplies and North Korean residents in Japan making trips back home.
Japan has barred the entry of all North Korean ships since 2006 after the North test-fired ballistic missiles.
Japan and North Korea held inter-governmental talks in Sweden in May. Japan agreed that if the North sets up a special investigation commission and starts to look into the fate of Japanese abducted by North Korean agents, and other missing Japanese, Japan will allow North Korean port calls for humanitarian purposes.
But Japanese government officials have maintained that the lifting of the sanction, if it happens, will not apply to the Mangyongbong.
At the round of inter-governmental talks scheduled for next Tuesday in Beijing, North Korea is to explain the organizational details of a special commission it says it has launched.
Observers say the return of the Mangyongbong to its port shows that North Korea may be hopeful that the talks will lead to the lifting of the sanction in the near future.
Jun. 26, 2014 - Updated 09:36 UTC