North's vessel and crew sent back after accidental crossing
The North Korean ship crossed the Northern Limit Line (NLL), which marks the de facto boundary between South and North Korean territorial waters, approximately 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) east of Baengnyeong Island in the Yellow Sea around 9:34 a.m. Tuesday, despite warning messages broadcasted from the South.
The Defense Ministry said it confirmed that the ship crossed the NLL “due to navigational errors and mechanical issues,” and that “the entire crew expressed their desire to return to the North.”
The ministry added that the South Korean military “respected their wishes and returned the vessel, with its seven crewmembers, back to the North near the NLL around 2 p.m. on Wednesday.”
While the exact nature of the North Korean vessel has not been confirmed, its entry into the South’s waters on Tuesday led to a near-altercation between South and North Korean patrol ships.
Fifteen minutes after the North Korean boat crossed the NLL, a North Korean coastal patrol boat also crossed the boundary in apparent pursuit of the first vessel, leading the South Korean Navy patrol boat that had been dispatched to the site to issue four warning messages telling it to retreat.
In its radio communications, the North Korean patrol responded, “Send [that ship] back. It is a fishing boat. If you refuse, you are responsible for everything that happens and we cannot guarantee your safety.”
The South Korean Navy patrol fired three warning shots using a 40 millimeter gun once the North Korean patrol had traveled 1 kilometer past the NLL, leading it to retreat after spending a total seven minutes in South Korean territorial waters, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).
Afterwards, the South Korean Navy seized the first ship and its crew, six of whom were wearing military suits, and towed it to Baengnyeong Island for investigation.
According to the JCS, the South sent two messages to the North about the incident through a commercial line and a military communication line.
The incident marks the first time a North Korean military vessel has crossed the NLL since the two countries signed a 2018 military agreement meant to reduce tensions in the area.
The NLL, which extends into the sea from the land-based military demarcation line that divides the Korean Peninsula, was set up by the United Nations after the 1950-53 Korean War to prevent an outbreak of hostilities between the North Korean mainland and five South Korean-controlled islands, including Yeonpyeong Island and Baengnyeong Island.
However, the North does not recognize the NLL, and the area has long been a flashpoint for tensions between South Korean patrol boats enforcing the boundary and North Korean fishing boats whose activities take place close to, or over, the line.
The cash-strapped North Korean government also sold fishing rights in the area to Chinese fishing companies, who have also clashed repeatedly with South Korean patrols in recent years.
BY MICHAEL LEE [email@example.com]