September 02, 2009 08:07
The 800 Yeonan,a South Korean fishing boat towed to North Korea in July, strayed across the Northern Limit Line in the East Sea because it lacked any GPS homing device.
A government team disclosed the outcome of its investigation on Tuesday, saying the Yeonan went squid fishing without GPS and was returning to Geojin Port relying only on a compass and experience, when it failed to find the right sea route and crossed into North Korean waters.
The trawler had left Geojin Port around 1 p.m. on July 29. It made a mistake in finding the right sea route during its return voyage from the open seas 69 miles (127.8 km) east of the port. It had decided to return because there was a small school of fish there.
The Yeonan last had radio contact with the Sokcho fishing information and communications bureau to report on the appearance of a North Korean patrol boat around 6:17 a.m. on July 30. At 6:30 a.m., it was seized by the North Korean boat in waters 8 miles (14.8 km) north of the NLL, 22 miles (40.7 km) northeast of Geojin Port.
While in North Korea, the crew were reportedly intensively interrogated whether they crossed the border intentionally to spy. "North Korean officials forced Yeonan crewmembers to admit that they had intentionally entered the North with a mission to scout around North Korea" in preparation for joint South Korean-U.S. military exercises, the team said, "They were also interrogated why they had not installed the GPS device in the first place."
The crew were also reportedly threatened with referral to a kangaroo court on charges of illegal entry into North Korean waters. The crew were interrogated on their boat for two days and afterwards taken to Wonsan Port, where they were questioned for 30 minutes to an hour every day until Aug. 19. They denied spying but admitted their mistake in crossing the border and submitted handwritten statements in that regard.
The joint investigation team said, "North Korea provided them with normal meals and snacks and did not treat them harshly. But although its investigation was in fact finished on Aug. 19, the North did not let them come back immediately, but watched for a good time to do so."
Right after they returned to Sokcho Port on Aug. 29, the crew were questioned again for three days, this time by South Korean authorities, about how they had crossed the NLL. They were sent home Tuesday and are said to be in good condition.
The government will seek ways to prevent a recurrence and plans to talk with the North so that South Korean crew can be allowed to come back at an early date if they cross the border by mistake.
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