"I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky; and all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by."
-- John Masefield (1878-1967)
Pyongyang has confirmed that one Hwang Hong Ryon has indeed sailed his 3.9 ton fishing vessel across the maritime border in the East Sea and is now in North Korea, and under investigation. Hwang caused a stir April 13 when he sailed North from Sokcho (under the influence of alcohol, if the South Korean investigators are to be believed) and refused to stop amid automatic weapons fire from South Korean coastal forces. The incident received additional attention as the minister of unification was touring the area, so the reporters traveling with him near the DMZ heard the sound of the gunfire – which I’m sure raised some adrenaline levels for a moment.
If the stories being put out by the ROKs are accurate, this incident is a case of a 67-year-old North Korean-born fisherman whose son was in jail making one last (and first) trip back to his homeland after one too many bottles of soju. Coming after two more South Korean defections to the North last year (one boldly cutting a hole through the fence at the DMZ and walking through the minefield, the other, if I recall, going to the North via China), Hwang’s actions raise suspicions. Is there a sense that, given the continued economic rapprochement and the consistently soft tone by ROK officials toward the DPRK that defection North just isn’t all that bad? Is it that some people never seem to get on the family reunion list and are no longer willing to wait? Could the North be calling home some long-term agents from the South? Or is it just an anomaly that happened to happen three times recently, but there is little relation between the three?