North Korea has been holding a Russian fishing ship carrying two South Korean nationals since July 17, after the vessel drifted into waters off eastern North Korea due to a mechanical problem, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said Wednesday.
The 300-ton red crab fishing vessel, Xiang Hai Lin 8, which sails under the flag of Russia, was apprehended at sea by North Korea authorities and moved to the port city of Wonsan after entering North by crossing the maritime border. The ship was headed to the Russian port of Zarubino from South Korea’s eastern port of Sokcho, Gangwon Province, on July 16.
“A total of 17 crew members, including 15 Russian nationals and two South Koreans, have been detained for investigation for violating the rules of entry and stay in North Korean territory,” according to the Russian Embassy in Pyongyang, citing representatives of North’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The two Korean men, who are in their 50s and 60s and joined the crew as technical supervisors, are safe, according to the Unification Ministry.
“The government will do our best to confirm the safety of our nationals and make sure a positive measure can take place through our discussion channel with the North and close cooperation with the Russian authorities,” the ministry said in a statement.
Following a report from the ship’s owner, Russia-based Northeast Fishing Company, the Unification Ministry asked North Korea to share details of the incident and has called for the return of the South Korean crew members swiftly and safely nine times since July 18, but North Korea has remained unresponsive.
According to a Unification Ministry official, the crew members are staying at a hotel in the city of Wonsan while North Korean authorities investigate.
In the last decade, there were two previous cases of South Korean-flagged ships captured by North Korea after crossing the inter-Korean maritime border — one in 2010 and the other in 2017. It took 31 days and 7 days, respectively, for the crew members and ships to return home.