The New York Times
SEOUL, South Korea
Twenty-one North Koreans, including women and children, were found adrift in a boat off the west coast of South Korea last Sunday and asked for asylum, the South Korean military said Saturday.
The 5-ton boat was spotted by a South Korean navy patrol 23 miles south of the maritime border disputed by North Korea. The people on board were transferred to a maritime police boat and taken to Incheon, a major port outside Seoul, the South Korean capital.
“When they were found, they immediately expressed their intention to defect,” the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. “A joint inquiry team from the related government agencies are investigating what motivated them to defect.”
Yonhap, South Korea’s national news agency, reported that the defectors were all part of the same family. Their boat was drifting among a cluster of Chinese fishing boats in the area, in a possible attempt to elude North Korean patrol boats, Yonhap reported.
More than 20,000 North Koreans have defected to the South since a famine hit their impoverished home country in the mid-1990s. Most of them travel through the border with China, but some have tried more treacherous escapes through the heavily guarded land and sea borders between the two Koreas.
It is the fourth time North Koreans have defected to the South by sea this year. But details of their journey were not known. Some defectors by boat sail directly from North Korea, but others have sailed from China with the help of human rights activists.
When North Korean boats occasionally drift into its waters, South Korea accepts all North Koreans who wish to stay in the South and repatriates those who wish to return home.
The two Koreas were locked in weeks of acrimony after a boat carrying 31 North Koreans drifted across the western sea border in thick fog in February. North Korea demanded the return of all of them, but South Korea returned 27, saying the other four had chosen to stay.
In September, nine North Koreans, including three children, were picked up by Japan’s coast guard after sailing from North Korea’s east coast. They arrived in South Korea last month.
The New York Times