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South Korea returns eight North Koreans and vessels after sea rescue

SEOUL South Korea sent eight North Koreans and two vessels it had rescued drifting at sea last week back across their maritime border on Monday, and patrol vessels from the North were on hand to receive them, the South’s unification ministry said.

All eight of those rescued had said they wanted to return to the North, ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-hee said. Their return came after North Korea had ignored notice on Thursday of plans to repatriate the crew, some of whom were suffering frostbite, and the vessels, Jeong told a media briefing.

At least one person was believed to have died from starvation, and possibly more, according to survivors, Jeong said last week. One of the ships set sail in September and the other in November, he said.

South Korea’s relations with the North are at a low point after the North conducted two nuclear tests and numerous test-launches of ballistic missiles this year.

The North reacts sensitively to announcements by South Korea of defections of its people. It has accused the South of kidnapping 13 employees of a restaurant in China who defected to the South in April.

(Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Paul Tait)