Korean navies exchange fire

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

North and South Korea
Image: Patrick Mannion.

A skirmish has occurred between patrol boats of the Korean People's Navy of North Korea and the South Korean Republic of Korea Navy in the Yellow Sea. According to a South Korean naval official, the North Korean vessel took "considerable damage."

According to the Yonhap, the South Korean news agency, the battle began just after 11:30am local time, near the islands of Baengnyeong and Daecheong when a North Korean patrol vessel strayed over a disputed maritime demarcation line know as the Northern Limit Line (NLL). The South Korean vessel issued warning broadcasts, which were ignored and began to fire warning shots.

"A North Korean patrol ship crossed the Northern Limit Line and did not cease when we fired warning shots," a military source said, as quoted by Yonhap. "There were no casualties on our side while the North Korean boat, half-destroyed, sailed back to the North."

According to the unnamed naval official, "The North Koreans then opened fire on the South Korean boat." He further added, "The battle itself lasted no more than a minute." The official noted that, "It wasn't a close-range battle. We fired heavily on the North Korean vessel."

North Korea contests that their ship crossed the border, and is seeking an apology, according to the Korean Central News Agency. "The South Korean military authorities should make an apology to the North side for the armed provocation and take a responsible measure against the recurrence of the similar provocation," stated North Korea's military supreme command. This is the latest exchange between the two countries along their western sea border since intense battles in 1992 and 2002.

Each side blames the other for the clash

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said that the North Korean boat crossed the NLL before sailing south for about 1.1 kilometres (0.7 miles). The South Korean boat fired several warning shots which were ignored, after which "the North's side opened fire, directly aiming at our ship. Then our ship responded by firing back, forcing the North Korean boat to return to the north […] "There were no casualties on our side. We are on the lookout for any further provocations by the North."

According to a JCS spokesman their high-speed naval boat damaged the North Korean patrol boat. "It wasn't a close-range battle. We fired heavily on the North Korean vessel," said a navy official to the Yonhap news agency. "It is our initial assessment that the North Korean boat suffered considerable damage."

North Korea states however that their vessel was in the area to confirm "an unidentified object" on their side of the border. Whilst returning, South Korean ships pursued and fired upon it in what they call "grave armed provocation".

Disputed border

The United Nations drew up the NLL at the end of of the Korean war in 1953, but North Korea has never recognised it, wanting it to be moved farther south. Last month it said that South Korea was deliberately sending navy vessels into the area to heighten tensions and that "reckless military provocations" could bring about armed clashes.

Skirmishes have occurred in the past at the line including two deadly incidents in 1999 which resulted in the sinking of a North Korean vessel and another in 2002 when 4 South Korean sailors and 30 North Korean sailors were killed in a battle that lasted 20 minutes.


The clash comes shortly ahead of President Barack Obama's visit to Asia and talks between North Korean and the United States about military disarmament and nuclear weapons.