A North Korean defector stole a fishing boat on Yeonpyeong Island on Wednesday night and returned to the North across the West Sea. Astonishingly, he was able to cross the heavily armed sea border undetected at a time when North Korea threatens nuclear attacks on a daily basis.
The military says radars detected the boat around 1 km south of the Northern Limit Line, the de facto sea border, but it was too late to do anything. The NLL is 5 km from Yeonpyeong Island, meaning the boat traveled 4 km without being detected. How can South Koreans possibly feel secure with such a glaring lapse in border defense?
The military claims the boat was traveling in a blind spot on the radar. That is hard to believe, but if it was purely the fault of the radar system, that would mean most of the 10 km sea buffer separating Yeonpyeong Island and North Korea is in the same blind spot.
So how has the military dealt with this problem so far?
It says sentries were posted to monitor the region, but the fishing boat was able to evade them too.
The next obvious question is what a North Korean defector who intended to return to the North was doing all the way out on Yeonpyeong Island for two months? Could he have been spying on Marine installations there? The military denies the possibility, but how good is its word given all the other recent blunders on the frontline?
Of course it is no easy task to guard the inter-Korean border and coasts that stretch for thousands of kilometers. But Yeonpyeong Island needs particular attention. North Korean coastal artillery sits just 10 km away, and in November 2011 it was attacked by North Korean shells. The island is also one of the most vulnerable spots to a North Korean invasion. That is why there can be no lapse in defense there.
Can the military confidently promise to thwart a nighttime raid by North Korean special forces aboard wooden boats?
The military has pledged to maintain a solid defense amid increasing threats from North Korea, but incident after incident shows how empty that pledge is. In October last year, a North Korean soldier crossed over the heavily-fortified border undetected and knocked on the door of a sentry outpost here, saying he wanted to defect. Any more of these blunders and the public will lose whatever trust in the military they still have. It needs to wake up and realize how serious the situation is.