SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA — South Korea’s military fired warning shots at a North Korean patrol boat that crossed the de facto inter-Korean sea border off the peninsula’s west coast, South Korea’s military reported Tuesday.
The skirmish occurred as South Korean authorities detained another North Korean vessel that had also crossed the so-called Northern Limit Line (NLL), according to a statement from South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The North Korean patrol boat, which was pursuing the first vessel, retreated after South Korea’s military fired warning shots, the statement added.
South Korea’s military detained the other vessel and brought it to nearby Baekryeong Island. South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported that six of the seven crew members were wearing military uniforms.
A South Korean military spokesperson told VOA that Seoul was investigating the nature of the detained boat.
Small skirmishes occasionally break out along the inter-Korean border. But it is the first time a North Korean military vessel has crossed the NLL since the two countries signed a 2018 military agreement meant to reduce tensions, according to Chun In-bum, a retired South Korean lieutenant general.
“It’s a touch-and-go situation out there,” Chun told VOA.
The incident comes a day before South Koreans head to the polls to choose a successor to President Moon Jae-in, who pursued better relations with Pyongyang.
Ruling party candidate Lee Jae-myung promises to continue Moon’s outreach to the North, while Yoon Seok-youl, his conservative rival, vows a more adversarial approach.
In the past, North Korea has often tried to raise tensions just before South Korean elections. But Chun says the timing of the latest sea border skirmish is likely coincidental.
Since 2019, North Korea has rejected South Korea’s offer to improve ties. Instead, the North has increased missile tests. This year alone, North Korea has fired 13 missiles during nine rounds of launches.
North Korea says its last two missile tests have been in preparation for the launch of a reconnaissance satellite, a move that may significantly raise tensions.
North Korea insists its satellite launches are peaceful, but the United States, Japan and South Korea see them as disguised long-range missile tests. Pyongyang last launched a satellite in 2016.