By Chico Harlan
Monday, August 9, 2010; A08
SEOUL -- North Korea on Sunday seized a South Korean fishing boat that apparently had sailed into an East Sea zone that the North views as its own, a move that could agitate already tense relations on the peninsula.
The boat, carrying seven people, is now being held by North Korean authorities, the South's coast guard said in a statement.
The incident comes at a time of fierce dispute between the North and South, reflected most recently as the South conducted military drills in the Yellow Sea, to the west. North Korea had threatened to counter the drills with "strong physical retaliation." The South's five-day drills were to end Monday.
The fishing boat, known as the Daeseung, was carrying four South Koreans and three Chinese. China is North Korea's chief ally.
"We have found out that our fishing vessel is being investigated by North Korean officials in the presumed North Korea exclusive economic waters in northern East Sea," the South Korean coast guard said in a statement. "The South Korean government, according to international law, wants the swift resolution to the matter and the safe return of its vessel and its fishermen."
According to one report in the South Korean media, the boat was operating in a maritime area shared by North Korea and Russia, about 160 miles off the North Korean coast.
Territorial fishing disputes have been common between the North and South throughout the decades. The so-called Northern Limit Line, which separates waters to the east and west, was fixed in 1989.
The current tensions between the North and South began in March with the sinking of the Cheonan warship, which killed 46 South Korean sailors. A subsequent investigation blamed the North for the sinking, but Pyongyang has denied any involvement.