Saturday, August 1, 2009
S. Korea fishing boat taken to N. Korea port after traveling over the NLL
Observers wait to see if boat’s crew will be repatriated or become a factor in inter-Korean negotiations
Posted on : Jul.31, 2009 12:45 KST
The 29-ton South Korean fishing boat with four crew members crossed the Northern Limit Line (NLL) on Thursday morning as it was catching squid. The fishing boat was brought back to the North Korean port of Jangjon by a North Korean patrol boat. The repatriation of the crew is expected to become a new factor in inter-Korean relations.
Unification Ministry Spokesman Chun Hae-sung said Thursday that at around 6:17 a.m., the 800 Yeonanho, a squid boat from Geojin, Gangwon Province, was on its way home after fishing in international waters in the East Sea when it was intercepted and towed by a North Korean patrol boat some 20 nautical miles northeast of the port of Jejin. The boat was about seven nautical miles across the NLL when it was towed. A military official said the boat left Geojin Harbor at 1:30 p.m. the previous day to catch squid in the distant seas. On its way home, however, it appears its GPS equipment malfunctioned and it entered North Korean waters. The boat entered the North Korean port of Jangjon near the Kumgang Mountains at around 9:30 a.m. Thursday.
A military official said they used a wireless radio to tell the North Korean patrol boat twice that the boat had gone off-course and asked that it be allowed to return south, but there was no response. The South Korean government sent a message through the inter-Korean maritime authority communication net demanding the speedy repatriation of the boat and its crew. North Korea responded in the afternoon via the same communication net, informing South Korean authorities that relevant bodies were currently investigating the incident. The four men on the boat include skipper Park Gwang-seon, chief engineer Kim Yeong-gil, and crewmen Kim Bok-man and Lee Tae-yeol (53).
Since the 2000 inter-Korean summit, North Korea has freed stray South Korean fishing boats that have accidentally crossed the NLL within a couple of days after conducting a brief investigation. In April 2005, for instance, North Korea returned the fishing boat Hwangmanho after its skipper crossed the NLL in a state of severe drunkenness. In December of the same year, the Ujinho was returned in 18 days.
In the case of North Korean boats that wander south, the South Koreans, too, have returned anyone who did not wish to defect. Chun said two North Korean fishing boats crossed the NLL in the West Sea this year, however, both boats were immediately repatriated in the name of humanitarianism, he said.
If North Korea follows these precedents, it will be a positive sign for inter-Korean relations. Observers are saying if North Korea treats this incident, the first of a South Korean fishing boat crossing the NLL since the Lee Myung-bak administration took office, similar to how it has in the past by applying the principle of repatriation, it could signal that North Korea does not want to further aggravate its relationship with South Korea.
Observers are adding, however, that the crew’s repatriation could be delayed if North Korea intends to negotiate or apply pressure by drawing out the length of the investigation. It the crew becomes a negotiating card with South Korea, one could see this incident as opening another channel in the currently blocked-up inter-Korean relationship. On the other hand, if North Koreas uses the crew to apply pressure on South Korea, it would mean it now has another “hostage” card to play, in addition to the currently detained Hyundai Asan employee who had been working in Kaesong (Gaseong) and negatively effect inter-Korean relations.
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