N. Korean boat crosses into S. Korean waters

Eric Atler, July 29, 2019, 9:18 a.m.

A wooden boat suspected of being owned by the North Korean military crossed into South Korean waters in the East Sea on Saturday night.

The three crewmembers told South Korean officers who picked them up that they had no intention of defecting to the South. But military authorities are investigating them because they cannot rule out an ulterior motive.

The military announced the capture just two hours after the North Korean boat was towed into the nearest naval base, perhaps for fear of repeating a debacle last month when it kept the unchecked arrival of a North Korean fishing boat in Samcheok under wraps.

"A Navy ship was dispatched immediately after a small North Korean wooden boat crossed the Northern Limit Line in the East Sea around 11:21 p.m.," a Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman said Sunday. "We took the crew and towed it to the naval base in Yangyang, Gangwon Province."

The boat was first spotted 5.5 km north of the NLL by Army radar around 10:15 p.m. Saturday. "We kept watching it because it was the only boat in that area and continued to move south," the spokesman added.

Naval commandos in a speedboat approached the boat around 00:18 a.m. Sunday and found the three crewmen aboard.

The boat, which is only about 10 m long, was loaded fishing gear and squid. One of the crewmen was in uniform, "but it wasn't confirmed whether they are soldiers or not," the spokesman said.

When they approached the boat, the naval commandos saw a white towel hanging at the mast. "We need a thorough investigation to find out whether that was supposed to be a signal that they wanted to defect or just the laundry," he added.

The incident comes at a sensitive time after Pyongyang launched two short-range ballistic missiles in protest at planned South Korea-U.S. joint drills next month. The North often denounces highly publicized defections as "abductions."

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