Page last updated at 09:24 GMT, Thursday, 30 July 2009 10:24 UK

N Korea 'seizes S Korea vessel'

South Korean fishing boat passes naval vessel. File photo - 7 June 2009
Fishing boats from both sides sometimes stray across the boundary

A South Korean fishing boat has been towed away by a North Korean patrol boat off the peninsula's east coast, South Korean officials say.

The military says the ship had strayed north of the maritime border due to a problem with its navigation system.

South Korea has asked for the boat and the crew, who were fishing for squid, to be returned as soon as possible.

The incident comes as relations between the two rival Koreas have worsened over the North's nuclear and missile tests.

The 29-tonne fishing boat, named the 800 Yeonanho, "was tugged to the port of Jangjon at 0930 (0030 GMT)," said Lee Bung-woo, a defence ministry spokesperson in Seoul.

The North has not yet responded to Seoul's request to release the crew and boat, other officials said.

'Beyond radar reach'

Mr Lee said the boat's crew had reported a malfunction with their satellite navigation system shortly before it was seized 11km (seven miles) into North Korean waters at 0627 (2127 GMT).

The 800 Yeonanho did not respond to calls from the South Korean navy trying to identify the boat, a spokesman for South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff, Park Sung-woo, said.

"The ship was out of the reach of our radars when it crossed the Northern Limit Line (NLL)," he said.

Map showing location of North and South Korea

"The boat was also tiny and built with reinforced plastics, which made it hard to identify the vessel with radars."

The NLL is the de facto maritime boundary between North and South Korea, established after the Korean War ended in 1953. The two countries are still technically at war, as a peace treaty was never negotiated.

There is concern that the current tensions between the two sides may complicate the issue, following the North's recent nuclear test and the South's support for international sanctions, says the BBC's John Sudworth in Seoul.

A South Korean worker who was based at a joint industrial project has been held for almost four months by the North, accused of insulting its political system.

Two US journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who were seized along North Korea's border with China in March, are also still being held.

But similar incidents involving fishing vessels straying across the boundary have been successfully resolved in the past.

A South Korean boat that drifted into the North's waters in 2006 was returned after 18 days, and the South's military says it recently returned two Northern fishing boats that had strayed over the line.

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