Saved fisherman defects to SouthA North Korean fisherman who was discovered drifting in a boat in South Korean waters has asked to defect here, following two others who were recently rescued and refused to return to the North.
It is the third time since May 31 for the South Korean Coast Guard to save a North Korean fishing boat stranded in its waters.
According to South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, the Coast Guard rescued a North Korean man, presumed to be in his 20s, who was in a fishing boat that had drifted into Southern waters below the inter-Korean border in the East Sea on June 16.
During questioning by the National Intelligence Service, the man expressed his intention to defect into South Korea, according to the ministry.
“After questioning, he confirmed his will to not return to North Korea,” said Kim Eui-do, the Unification Ministry’s spokesman, at a daily briefing yesterday. “In general, we notify North Korea about any drifted fishermen, but if he does not want to return, we do not send any notification to the regime on a humanitarian basis.”
“[The Coast Guard] seemed to make a tentative conclusion that they could not fix the ship, as most of the North Korean fishing boats are too weathered to be fixed,” Kim added.
On May 31, three North Koreans in a fishing boat with a broken engine were rescued near South Korea’s Ulleung Island. Two asked to defect to the South while the other requested to be repatriated to the North.
The South Korean government sent the third man back to North Korea via the border village of Panmunjom on June 3.
On June 13, five more North Korean fishermen were rescued in a sinking boat near the South’s easternmost land, the Dokdo islets in the East Sea. All were repatriated to North Korea through Panmunjom upon their wish.
The Unification Ministry spokesman said the recent rise in drifting North Korean fishing boats is likely because of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s strong pressure on fishermen to increase their work. The ministry assumes Kim wants to resolve the food shortage at home, despite the fact that the fishermen’s boats are too outdated to handle the task.
“Since the end of last year, Kim Jong-un has visited many facilities regarding the fishery industry and put his emphasis on boosting fisheries, so we can assume that some relevant organizations excessively push their workers to catch fish,” Kim said.
“Most of the three boats rescued recently were confirmed to be for catching squid in the East Sea, and currently a lot of squid are being caught there,” Kim added.
On Dec. 26, 2013, North Korea held its first “Convention of Diligent Workers in the Fishery Industry in Pyongyang,” the regime’s official mouthpiece, the Korean Central News Agency, reported. A string of high-ranking officials, not including Kim, attended the meeting and urged workers to raise the volume of fish being caught.
In January 2014, the leader also visited a newly built army freezer dubbed the January 8 Fishery Station and ordered the soldiers to provide fish for underprivileged people. Jan. 8 is Kim’s birthday.
In February, the KCNA released a photo of Kim hugging a boy, with a broad smile on his face, and stated that the leader is determined to provide at least 300 grams of fish per day for each child in the impoverished regime.
The KCNA also said that the August 25 Fishery Station, an army unit in charge of fishing, succeeded in catching about 4,000 metric tons of fish between May and November 2013 after Kim Jong-un gifted them with a newly-built fishing vessel named Maple in May.
Sources told the JoongAng Ilbo that most of the North Korean fishing boats rescued by South Korea were wooden vessels smaller than a one-ton ship.
Many of the drifting boats broke while being towed by the Coast Guard. As a result, most of the fishermen who wanted to return to their homeland were sent through Panmunjom, crossing the heavily guarded border rather than returning in their boats.
In cases where the vessels stayed intact, some were allowed to return to North Korea beyond the Northern Limit Line, the de factor maritime border, as soon as they were found by the South Korean Navy, sources said.
Some of the Northern fishermen were also provided with food and drinking water from the South Korean Navy.
BY KIM HEE-JIN, LEE YOUNG-JONG [email@example.com]