Adrift fishermen from North saved

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Adrift fishermen from North saved

The South Korean Navy and Coast Guard rescued eight North Korean crewmen stranded for weeks on three fishing boats in the East Sea earlier this week, according to the Ministry of Unification Thursday.

But the South Korean government is having trouble getting in touch with Pyongyang to return the fishermen home.

Jeong Joon-hee, the Unification Ministry spokesman, said at a press briefing that the South’s Coast Guard discovered three North Korean vessels over Sunday and Monday, rescuing eight surviving crew aboard.

The fishing boats had been drifting for up to three months and as many as 10 fishermen died from starvation or dehydration.

The three North Korean fishing vessels were said to have departed at different dates, in mid-September, mid-November and late November.

They were discovered in different locations in the South’s exclusive economic zone, or EEZ, in the East Sea by the South’s Coast Guard and Navy.

One of the vessels was damaged beyond repair. The other two were still functional and were towed toward the East Sea coast.

Jeong said that the surviving crewmen generally seem to be in good health, though one fisherman is suffering from slight frostbite.

One vessel’s engine appeared to have malfunctioned, one collided with a Chinese fishing vessel and another’s anchor line had been severed.

All eight men said they want to return to the North.

The South Korean government tried to communicate with the North three times through the Panmunjom hotline at the border truce village at 10 a.m. Thursday.

However, it did not receive any response from Pyongyang.

The South tried to communicate between 10 a.m. and 10:15 a.m. through its West Sea military hotline but likewise did not receive a reply. It will continue to try to communicate with Pyongyang.

“We plan to repatriate these surviving fishermen Monday morning at 9 a.m., taking into consideration weather conditions,” Jeong said.

The Panmunjom and military hotlines to contact Pyongyang were severed following Seoul’s decision to shut down the Kaesong Industrial Complex on Feb. 10 in response to North Korea’s fourth nuclear test in January and a subsequent long-range ballistic missile launch in February.

Seoul in the past has sent stranded North Korean sailors and fishermen back across the Northern Limit Line (NLL), the de facto maritime border with Pyongyang.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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