Cameras caught visitor from North, soldiers took longerA North Korean man who swam across the eastern maritime border into the South on Feb. 16 was captured on coastal military surveillance cameras 10 times after he swam ashore, but soldiers failed to respond even after the cameras set off alarms, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a press briefing Tuesday.
Eventually, he was spotted on surveillance cameras near a military checkpoint under the control of the 22nd Infantry Division north of the Civilian Control Access Line in Goseong, Gangwon. Three hours later he was captured inside the restricted area. He has reportedly expressed his desire to defect.
According to the JCS, the North Korean man began his overnight swim wearing a diving suit and a set of fins from an unidentified location in the North shortly after sunset around 7 p.m. on Feb. 15, coming ashore in the South around 1:05 a.m. on Feb. 16 - after a six-hour swim. He discarded his equipment and bypassed security fences near the coast using a drainage conduit around 1:40 a.m. and followed Route 7 south.
Coastal surveillance cameras captured the man five times between 1:05 a.m. and 1:38 a.m. as he moved 400 meters (1,312 feet) from the shore into the drainage conduit. The JCS said that his movements triggered two alarms which were missed by soldiers busy with other tasks.
The man was subsequently detected three times on surveillance cameras operated by the Navy within the restricted area between 4:12 a.m. and 4:14 a.m. as he continued his way south along Route 7, according to the JCS. However, the cameras did not trigger alarms.
It was only when the man was detected on surveillance cameras at a military checkpoint on the Civilian Access Control Line at 4:16 a.m. that the situation was reported 30 minutes later to the relevant military unit and commander at 4:47 a.m.
The JCS said that its probe of the area where the man swam ashore revealed that the drainage conduit in question was one of three such channels in the area that had been omitted from a list of facilities for military management. The JCS added that the barriers inside the drainage conduit were found to have corroded.
“The military did not patrol this area because the conduits were not exposed and there was a possibility that there might be landmines,” said a JCS source.
Commenting on the explanation, a source formerly with the military who is familiar with the area said, “There are no undiscovered landmines in that area. They have essentially admitted negligence in their duties.”
The 22nd Infantry Division, which controls the area where the man swam ashore and was detected on surveillance cameras, is the only army unit responsible for guarding both a land and coastal border. While other general outpost (GOP) units guard 25-40 kilometers (15-25 miles) of the land border with North Korea, the 22nd Infantry Division guards 30 kilometers (19 miles) of land and 70 kilometers (43 miles) of the shore.
Last July, the authorities ordered all border units to check barriers inside drainage conduits after a North Korean defector returned to the North through such a channel on Ganghwa Island on the western border. The check was supposed to be done by August, but the 22nd Infantry Division had not conducted the ordered inspections.
BY HAN YEONG-HYE, MICHAEL LEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]