SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea said on Thursday it was trying to repatriate eight North Koreans who drifted into its waters off its east coast aboard three vessels earlier in the week, but the North has not responded to its offer.
At least one person and possibly more are believed to have died from starvation according to survivors on the ships, one of which set sail in mid-September and another in November, the South’s Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-hee said.
All eight survivors, some suffering frostbite, have expressed their wish to return to the North, Jeong told a briefing. One of the vessels was damaged beyond repair and destroyed at sea with the agreement of the North Koreans. The other two have been towed to a South Korean port, he said.
North Korea has not responded to five attempts by the South to communicate the plan for repatriation, Jeong said.
The South’s policy is to repatriate North Koreans whose vessels drift into southern waters if the sailors express a wish to return home.
The three vessels were likely fishing boats, but Jeong did not specify the types of ships. One was damaged in a collision with a Chinese fishing boat, Jeong said.
North Korea 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.
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.
Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Michael Perry