SEOUL (AP) – Four North Koreans were found in a small wooden boat in South Korean waters in what is likely a rare case of North Koreans taking a risky sea voyage to flee to the South, Seoul officials said.
Over 30,000 North Koreans have fled to South Korea to avoid poverty and political oppression since the late 1990s. A vast majority of them have come via China and then Southeast Asian countries, and defecting by sea is uncommon because it’s more dangerous.
A South Korean coast guard ship found the boat south of the two Koreas’ eastern sea border after a report by a fishing boat. The four people on board identified themselves as North Koreans, coast guard officials said.
South Korea’s military said it secured the custody of the North Koreans in coordination with the coast guard, after chasing their boat along the sea border.
A military statement said the North Koreans were suspected of defecting to South Korea, but gave no further details. South Korean public broadcaster KBS, citing an unidentified government official, reported that the four North Koreans – a man and three women – are members of one family. KBS said they weren’t armed and didn’t wear military uniforms when they were found.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry declined to provide personal details of the four, saying an investigation was underway.
Defecting by sea is much more dangerous and many North Korean escapees were believed to have ended up dying after their boats sank amid bad weather.