BAENGNYEONG ISLAND —
The Yellow Sea is a military flashpoint between North and South Korea. Naval skirmishes between the two nations have erupted over the years and in 2010 Pyongyang attacked one of the South’s islands there. In recent weeks, tensions have risen on the Korean Peninsula as North Korea has responded to new sanctions on its nuclear program with increasing threats. Residents of another island say they are worried about what could happen.
Fisherman Lee Hwan-sun has lived all his life on Baengnyeong Island. These days he does not take his boat out very far.
“I used to take my boat out into the waters about five minutes out of this port. But because of the threats from North Korea, I do not dare go out there now," he said.
At its closest point, Baengnyeong is only about 15 kilometers away from North Korean territory. Last month, the North’s ruler Kim Jong Un ordered his army to take aim at the island, which is home to thousands of South Korean soldiers and marines. It is not the first time Baengnyeong has felt threatened by Pyongyang. But officials here say if the North strikes, they are ready to protect the 5,500 residents.
Kim Jin-guk heads the island's civil defense force, which maintains around 90 bomb shelters. If the North were to attack, 500 islanders could take shelter in this bunker. Kim says that despite North Korea’s recent threats, the situation here is under control.
“Residents here are more worried about an attack by North Korea compared with people from other parts of the country. They have lived so close to North Korea for many years and yet they remain calm and go about their daily lives as normal," he said.
Kim says an alarm system will alert residents to head for the shelters if North Korean shells do fall on Baengnyeong, like they did on Yeonpyeong Island in 2010. Kim hopes he does not have to ever use it.
While Baengnyeong has always been within range of North Korea’s artillery, some residents say they feel more threatened now than before. A women resident say Kim Jong Un is unpredictable.
“Kim Jong Un is worse than his father Kim Jong Il. We do not know when he is going to launch a missile. We are all scared," she said.
As for fisherman Lee Hwan-sun, he has considered leaving Baengnyeong all together. “My children all want me and my wife to leave the island and move with them on the mainland," he said.
Lee says he thinks he will just wait for the tensions to settle down so he can take his fishing boat back out to the sea.
Producer Malte Kollenberg also contributed to this report