x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

North and South Korean ships exchange fire

In a western sea border dispute, the exchange of naval fire left a North Korean ship suffering heavy damage before retreating, officials say.

This undated handout photo released by the South Korea Navy on November 10, 2009 in Seoul shows high-speed patrol boats armed with canons and machine guns.
This undated handout photo released by the South Korea Navy on November 10, 2009 in Seoul shows high-speed patrol boats armed with canons and machine guns.

SEOUL, South Korea // The two Koreas have briefly exchanged naval fire along their disputed western sea border, with a North Korean ship suffering heavy damage before retreating, South Korean military officials said. There were no South Korean casualties, the country's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement, and it was not immediately clear if there were any casualties on the North Korean side.

The North's patrol boat crossed the disputed western sea border this morning, drawing warning shots from a South Korean navy vessel, the statement said. The North Korean boat then opened fire and the South's ship returned fire before the North's vessel sailed back toward its waters, the statement said. The North Korean ship was seriously damaged in the skirmish while the South Korean ship was unscathed, a Joint Chiefs of Staff officer said. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity, citing department policy.

North Korea's military issued a statement blaming South Korea for the "grave armed provocation", saying its ships crossed into North Korean territory. The North claimed that a group of South Korean warships opened fire but fled after the North's patrol boat dealt "a prompt retaliatory blow". The statement, carried on the official Korean Central News Agency, said the South should apologise. The two Koreas have yet to agree on their sea border more than 50 years after the end of their 1950-53 civil war, which ended in an armistice and not a permanent peace treaty.

Instead, they rely on a line that the then-commander of UN forces, which fought for the South, drew unilaterally at the end of the conflict. North Korea last month accused South Korean warships of broaching its territory in waters off the west coast and warned of a clash in the zone, which is a rich crab fishing area. The latest conflict comes amid international tensions over North Korea's nuclear weapons program and expectations that Pyongyang and the United States may soon engage in direct talks.

Meanwhile, there were no signs of tension along the heavily fortified land border separating the two Koreas. * AP