June 17, 2019 12:14
A small North Korean fishing boat carrying four people was discovered by South Korean fishermen on Saturday some 130 km south of the Northern Limit Line in the East Sea. The boat somehow slipped undetected through South Korean military and maritime police surveillance.
A government source said Sunday the boat was discovered at around 7 a.m. on Saturday off Samcheok, Gangwon Province, and the fisherman alerted authorities.
A team of investigators are questioning the North Koreans on board and examining the boat.
Alarm bells are ringing because the boat was able to drift 130 km into South Korean waters before anyone noticed. The Navy has primary responsibility for guarding the NLL, the de facto maritime border, and maritime police is in charge of monitoring South Korean fishing boats this side and keeping them from drifting north.
In theory they can spot even small boats with their marine Automatic Identification System (AIS), while the Army's radars monitor maritime traffic in South Korean coastal waters. But none of them picked it up.
One military source said, "This is probably the first time since the mid-1990s that a North Korean vessel came as far south as Samcheok without being detected."
The Joint Chiefs of Staff and Navy declined to comment citing the ongoing investigation, but off the record officials said small wooden boats are hard to pick up on radar.
Shin Won-shik, a former JCS official, said, "Inter-Korean military agreements have raised concerns of laxity in guarding against North Korean threats and a vacuum in South Korea's defenses."
The North and South agreed during the inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang in September last year to designate around 80 km of waters from Sokcho in the South to Tongchon in the North as a maritime buffer zone and halted artillery and naval exercises there. But the South Korean military claims that monitoring of North Korean naval activities continues regardless.
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