Legislative probe neededThe story of the North Korean fishing boat that easily entered South Korean waters and docked at Samcheok Harbor on June 15 is full of mysteries. It has exposed many loopholes in our national security regimen as the vessel crossed the maritime border on the East Sea without any restriction. The incident has raised many questions about the Ministry of National Defense’s cover-up of the case, as well as its follow-up measures.
If armed North Korean agents had been aboard the boat, there could have been heavy casualties. More than 10 days have passed, and yet a joint investigation team from the Defense Ministry is still looking into the case.
The North Korean fishing boat was not caught by our reconnaissance system involving the Navy and the Coast Guard. They can detect a small boat with no engine. And yet they could not find the 33-foot ship powered by a motor. Usually, they pay special attention to the North’s powered vessels as they can be used for sending armed guerillas into the South. This time, however, they were not even aware of the existence of the ship when it was crisscrossing the East Sea for 52 hours.
That’s not all. The Army’s radar installed along the coast also was not able to find the ship near the harbor the following day. The Defense Ministry explained that a radar soldier could not detect it even when it was moving at nearly the same speed. We cannot understand the military blaming anything on a soldier.
In a strange development, military authorities also sent two of the four fishermen aboard the ship back to North Korea through Panmunjom without conducting a joint interrogation. In North Korea, powered vessels are mostly controlled by the military and captains are military personnel. If the two North Koreans really belonged to the military, they could have gathered intelligence on maritime intrusion routes.
Also, if our military authorities returned them while knowing they wanted to defect to South Korea, that poses a bigger problem. We wonder if the decision to send them back is related to the presence of a Blue House official in a briefing by the Ministry.
Given the gravity of the incident, our military only fueled public confusion by trying to conceal details about it. As the Blue House can intervene in a military briefing when the need arises, we cannot believe what the Defense Ministry said. It is time for the National Assembly to clear all suspicions through a legislative probe.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 27, Page 30