(CNN) – The death of an American college student who was held prisoner by North Korea has sent a chill through companies that organize tours to the secretive country.
Otto Warmbier was arrested in North Korea during a sightseeing tour last year. After 17 months of detention, the North Korean government last week handed the 22-year-old over to U.S. authorities in a vegetative state. Warmbier’s family said he died in Ohio on Monday.
The news prompted Young Pioneer Tours, the Beijing-based company that organized Warmbier’s North Korea trip, to announce it will stop taking U.S. citizens on tours to the country.
The following statement was released on their website today:
“Our deepest sympathies are with Otto Warmbier and those who loved him. We had held onto hope that he might recover, and have the life that he should have had, but now those hopes are gone, and we too are reeling with the shock of a young man’s life taken well before his time.
The devastating loss of Otto Warmbier’s life has led us to reconsider our position on accepting American tourists. There had not been any previous detainment in North Korea that has ended with such tragic finality and we have been struggling to process the result. Now, the assessment of risk for Americans visiting North Korea has become too high.
The way his detention was handled was appalling, and a tragedy like this must never be repeated. Despite constant requests, we were denied any opportunity to meet him or anyone in contact with him in Pyongyang, only receiving assurances that he was fine. There has still been almost no information disclosed about his period in detention. Considering these facts and this tragic outcome we will no longer be organising tours for US citizens to North Korea.”
Two other agencies that cater to Western tourists wanting to visit North Korea — Koryo Tours and Uri Tours — said they were reviewing whether to keep offering their services to Americans.
“We are discussing this matter frankly with our Korean travel partners, and the foreign organizations active in Pyongyang that we liaise with,” Beijing-based Koryo Tours said in a statement.
The U.S. State Department strongly warns Americans against traveling to North Korea, saying they’re “at serious risk of arrest and long-term detention under North Korea’s system of law enforcement.”
Warmbier’s death comes less than a month after two U.S. congressmen introduced a bill aimed at banning American tourists from visiting North Korea. They said they wanted to cut off a source of foreign currency to Kim Jong Un’s government and prevent it from detaining more U.S. citizens.
But American tourists make up only a small fraction of visitors to North Korea, whose tourism industry is dominated by visitors from China, its main economic partner.