SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea’s military fired warning shots toward a North Korean boat crossing their sea border then it sent a navy mechanic to repair the drifting boat’s engine so it could go home, an official said Friday.
Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said it was the first time the South fired warning shots toward a North Korean vessel under the government of President Moon Jae-in, who took office in May 2017 and has pursued diplomatic engagement with the North.
The wooden boat with four crewmembers returned to the North on Thursday evening, hours after it had entered South Korean waters near the western border island of Yeonpyeong. The Joint Chiefs of Staff official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of office rules, said the crewmembers were government workers who monitor the activities of North Korean fishing boats.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff said a South Korean naval vessel broadcast a warning and fired 10 rounds of machinegun fire in waters near the North Korean boat after it came about 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) south of the sea border.
The North Koreans stopped their boat and showed “no act of hostility” toward the South Korean sailors approaching to examine the vessel, the official said.
The North Koreans said engine and navigation problems caused their vessel to drift and they asked to return to the North, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said. A South Korean navy mechanic went aboard the vessel and fixed its engine after finding a problem in its fuel system.
Officials from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Defense Ministry and navy couldn’t immediately confirm when South Korea’s military had last helped repair a North Korea vessel that crossed into its waters. The Joint Chiefs of Staff said fixing the vessel was the “obvious humanitarian choice” to make in the situation.
The Koreas have had sporadic and sometimes deadly naval clashes in the waters surrounding their disputed western sea border during times of past high tensions.
A South Korean-led international investigation blamed North Korea for sinking a 1,200-ton South Korean warship in March 2010, killing 46 sailors. The North denied attacking the corvette, but bombed Yeonpyeong island in November that year in retaliation for South Korean military exercises in the area, leaving two marines and two civilians dead.