Crew of ship that sunk off of Yeosu are repatriated

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Crew of ship that sunk off of Yeosu are repatriated

South Korea yesterday repatriated three North Korean crew members and the bodies of two others who died after their ship sunk off the coast of Yeosu, South Jeolla, yesterday via the border village of Panmunjeom.

The three crew members were rescued by the Yeosu Coast Guard Friday morning in waters off the coast of Yeosu after the Mongolian-flagged cargo ship sank. Another 11 North Korean crew members from the 4,300-ton vessel Grand Fortune 1 remained missing as of press time yesterday amid ongoing search operations by the Coast Guard.

Three people, including a 54-year-old ship engineer surnamed Kim, and the two bodies were returned to the Northern side at the border village on foot at 2:05 p.m. yesterday, the Unification Ministry said in a statement, as requested by Pyongyang.

The ship was bound for China from the North Korean city of Cheongjin with 50 tons of oil and 6,500 tons of iron ore and copper powder, which would have earned the Communist state hard-sought foreign currencies amid crushing international sanctions on its economy.

The fact that the vessel flew a Mongolian flag when all its crew members were North Korean nationals sparked suspicions that Pyongyang was using the Mongolian ship to avoid South Korea’s scrutiny.

The repatriation of the three crew members yesterday came two days after the sinking. Pyongyang made repeated requests for the South to hand over the survivors and the two bodies through its official news outlet Saturday.

Through Pyongyang’s mouthpiece the Korean Central News Agency, the North expressed its wishes for the South to continue its search and rescue mission for the 11 missing crew members.

“We request that the authorities [in the South] conduct a rescue mission according to the international norms on humanitarian grounds and repatriate surviving members to the North so they can reunite with their families,” said KCNA.

Pyongyang’s request for the swift return of the crew members follows a press conference by three North Korean fishermen who drifted into Southern waters across the Northern Limit Line in the Yellow Sea on March 27. They claimed they were beaten by the South Korean Navy during and after the seizure of their boat for trespassing.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]




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