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Fishing boat that ends up in South appears military

JCS says craft has a registration number, but its catch was squid

July 29,2019
A small North Korean fishing boat carrying three men crossed into South Korean waters on the eastern coast late Saturday evening, according to Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).

The South’s military spotted the wooden boat on the North’s side of the Northern Limit Line (NLL) - the maritime border between the two Koreas - on military radar at 10:15 p.m., and its Navy patrol boats caught up with the vessel once it crossed the NLL into the South at 11:21 p.m.

After being transferred to Yangyang, Gangwon, where they were interrogated, the three men testified they accidentally crossed the NLL due to a “navigation error” and that they had no intention to defect to South Korea.

Military authorities believe the fishing vessel, which had equipment like nets but no GPS, belongs to the North’s military.

A JCS spokesman said the wooden boat had a registration number that could be traced back to North Korean military vessels, and that one of the crew was wearing a military uniform.

A more detailed investigation has been launched to look into other questions, a JCS spokesman said, like how the sailors would have mistaken their navigation route when they could easily spot a brightly lit shoreline.

The capture of a North Korean vessel near the NLL is a rare occasion, given that in similar previous circumstances South Korean authorities preferred to make any trespassers turn back to the North at the scene rather than go through the process of bringing them into custody.

In this case, the South’s military immediately launched patrol boats and even a nearby frigate to apprehend the vessel.

The military was embarrassed when a wooden boat carrying four North Koreans floated into South Korean waters undetected by nearby army and navy patrol for 58 hours before mooring in Samcheok Harbor, Gangwon, on June 12.

Bombarded by opposition politicians and the press, the military was forced to apologize for the security breach but denied that it had staged a deliberate cover up to hide its failure to detect the boat.

One of the North Korean crew members of that boat made it into the harbor and asked a passerby to borrow a mobile phone. The government became aware of the arrival of the North Koreans only after the passerby called the police.

According to the JCS, the South Korean military caught around 380 North Korean fishing vessels illegally crossing the NLL between May 31 to July 14, most of which were turned back. These numbers represent a major increase from the same period last year, when only around 40 vessels were caught.

The JCS believes this may have to do with a rise in water temperatures in the East Sea compared to last year, which have driven squid to migrate southwards, pushing North Korean fishermen to do the same. The catch found on the military fishing vessel intercepted on Saturday was largely squid, authorities said.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]


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