Alek Sigley
Alek Sigley

Urgent hunt for Aussie in North Korea

The family of an Australian feared detained in North Korea insist it's unusual for him not to contact them, but have no confirmation he's been detained by the secretive regime.

Australian officials are scrambling to find Perth man Alek Sigley, who vanished earlier this week. The federal government has expressed serious concerns for him.

The family issued a statement on Thursday, saying they hope to contact him soon.

"The situation is that Alek has not been in digital contact with friends and family since Tuesday morning, Australian time, which is unusual for him," they said.

"Alek's family hope to re-estalish contact with him soon."

The 29-year-old travel company boss and blogger runs tours of the reclusive state for foreign visitors.

He'd been preparing to lead a fresh tour in August, promising travellers a visit to the demilitarised zone that separates divided North and South Korea.

"Get right up to the border with South Korea, even technically cross it in one of the negotiation huts which lie between the northern and southern sides of the compound and are bisected by the border," his company's website says.

Australian officials have said little about the nature of his disappearance in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann is in Japan for the G20 summit and said everything possible is being done to locate the Australian.

He would not say if Prime Minister Scott Morrison might seek the help of US President Donald Trump in their scheduled meeting in Japan.

"There is obviously some complications in providing consular assistance into North Korea. We work through the Swedish government in North Korea," he told reporters.

Earlier, federal Attorney-General Christian Porter said the Australian was in a very serious situation.

"This particular jurisdiction, most Australians' common sense would tell them makes this a matter of the utmost seriousness."

Mr Sigley has run Tongil Tours for a number of years, while also studying Korean literature at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang.

His family says he has lived in several Asian countries and first visited North Korea in 2012. He can speak Mandarin and Korean fluently and some Japanese.

He was careful to avoid political commentary on his social media platforms, instead focusing on what he called North Korea's modernisation, its food and its architecture.

In a March article for The Guardian, Mr Sigley said he was the only Australian living in North Korea, and boasted that as a long-term foreigner on a student visa "I have nearly unprecedented access to Pyongyang".

He wrote of being able to wander freely and unaccompanied throughout the city.

Two years ago, in an interview with the ABC, he said he wouldn't be running his tours if he believed North Korea was an unsafe destination.

It's not the first case of an Australian being detained in North Korea.

Elderly South Australian missionary John Short was deported in 2014 after being held for 13 days for trying to spread Christianity.

Mr Short later told of gruelling daily interrogations and being kept under 24-hour guard, despite repeatedly saying he was not a spy and was not working with any South Korean connections.

North Korea continues to deny engaging in torture in one of the most infamous cases of Westerners detained in the country.

American university student Otto Warmbier died in June 2017, less than a week after Pyongyang sent him home in a coma.

The 22-year-old spent 17 months in a North Korean jail after visiting the country as a tourist and was arrested for attempting to steal a propaganda poster.

An Ohio coroner found the student died from lack of oxygen and blood to the brain caused by an unknown injury.