Confusion Grows Over Mystery Island

  • By Yang Seung-sik

    September 26, 2019 11:08

    Confusion is growing over a small island that appears to be nominally governed by South Korea but houses a North Korean military installation.

    The government here says Hambak Island has been wrongly identified on some online maps but in fact lies north of the de facto maritime border between the two Koreas.

    But newspaper reports from the 1960s about a bizarre North Korean abduction campaign clearly identify the island as South Korean, giving rise to suspicions that North Korea quietly annexed it since.

    The Monthly Chosun magazine has dug up an article from the Kyunghyang Shinmun newspaper from Oct. 29, 1965 about the abduction of dozens of South Korean fishermen by North Korea a day earlier. The headline reads, "Around 50 people abducted by North Korean vessel on West Sea." A map accompanying it shows Hambak Island situated south of the Northern Limit Line.

    And an article by the Donga Ilbo the same day reported that an armed North Korean patrol boat attacked fishermen who were catching clams near Ganghwa Island and one ship sank and two returned.

    A news report with a map published in the Chosun Ilbo on Oct. 31, 1965

    Two days later, the Chosun Ilbo also carried the news saying 97 fishermen were abducted to North Korea while catching clams in mud plains off Hambak Island. The story says 232 South Korean residents of islands in the West Sea were catching clams on five fishing trawlers and were attacked by 20 North Korean soldiers who abducted 97 of them.

    There is no mention that the fishermen had ventured past the NLL, and the waters near Hambak Island are only described as being "abundant with clams."

    But the Defense Ministry here, alerted to the history, denied that makes any difference. "There is no change in our stance that Hambak Island is situated 700 m north of the NLL," a ministry official said Wednesday. "In the 1950s and 60s, North and South Korea did not stringently monitor the NLL region, and there were instances of South Korean fishermen venturing to Hambak Island."

    "They stopped after North Korea deployed a fleet of patrol boats to the NLL in 1973 and threatened South Koreans on nearby islands, causing tensions to mount," the official added.

    It is unclear how the ministry believes the supposed error got into publicly available maps.

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