North Korea Seizes South Korean Boat Near Border
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea seized a South Korean squidding boat in waters near their eastern sea border, the South Korean Coast Guard said Sunday, straining already high tensions between the two Koreas.
The 41-ton boat was believed to have been detained after entering the North’s exclusive economic zone, where foreign fishing boats are banned, the coast guard said in a statement.
There was no immediate confirmation from North Korea that its forces had impounded the squidding vessel. But the North Korean government, angry over an ambitious South Korean naval exercise due to end Monday, had said it would respond with “strong physical retaliation” and had warned civilian vessels to stay clear of the maritime border between the two Koreas.
Four South Koreans and three Chinese crew members were aboard the squidding vessel, the Daeseung 55.
When South Korean fisheries authorities contacted a crewman on the boat by satellite phone on Sunday afternoon, he said that the boat was being towed to Songjin, a port on the eastern coast of North Korea, for interrogation of the crew. Then the communication was cut off, coast guard officials said.
“Our government hopes for the safe return of our ship and crew according to international laws,” the coast guard’s statement said.
Inter-Korean relations have plunged to their lowest point in years since a South Korean warship, the Cheonan, was sunk in March, killing 46 sailors.
A South Korean investigation attributed the sinking to a North Korean torpedo. The North has denied responsibility and called the accusation a justification for warmongering by South Korea and its main ally, the United States.
As part of the aftermath of the Cheonan attack, the South Korean military has been conducting a major naval exercise off of the west coast of the divided peninsula involving 4,500 troops and more than two dozen ships.
In the years immediately following the 1950-53 Korean War, North Korea was accused of prowling into South Korean waters and kidnapping those on South Korean fishing boats. Hundreds of South Korean fishermen from those ships never returned home.
Such episodes have become rarer in recent decades. But fishing boats from either side have occasionally drifted into the other’s waters, often after engine trouble. How fast they were released often depended on the tenor of bilateral relations at the time.
The South Korean squid ship left Pohang, a port on the east coast of South Korea, on Aug. 1 and was scheduled to return to port on Sept. 10. It made its last daily radio report to the South Korean Coast Guard on Saturday evening.
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