The Naval Clash on the Yellow Sea on
29 June 2002 between
South and North Korea
=The Situation and ROK's Position=
July 1, 2002
Ministry of National Defense
Republic of Korea
The Naval Clash on the Yellow Sea on 29 June 2002 between
South and North Korea
=The Situation and ROK's Position=
As the 2002 Korea/Japan World Cup games was drawing successfully to a close, two North Korean patrol ships crossed the Northern Limit Line, or NLL, over the Yellow Sea. One of the North Korean patrol ships opened surprise fire at a ROK Navy speed boat(PKM: Patrol Killer Medium). The naval clash resulted in the death of four ROK sailors, one missing, and 19 injured. One damaged South Korean PKM sank while being towed. From the North Korean side, one patrol ship was destroyed and we believe that the North Koreans also suffered heavy casualties as well.
The ROK Armed Forces expresses its deepest condolences to the South Korean families of the victims of the skirmish. The ROK Armed Forces intends to analyze the circumstances and nature of this incident; the North's intentions; and how the ROK Navy responded to the attacks. This paper will state the basic position and future response of the ROK Government and Armed Forces, and thereby renew our resolve and determination.
1. Circumstances of the Event and ROK's Response
a. Circumstances of the Event
At around 09:54 29 June 2002, a North Korean patrol ship crossed the NLL at a location 7 nautical miles from Yeonpyong-do and from there traveled 1.8 nautical miles southward. Two ROK Navy speed boats approached the North Korean patrol ship and demanded its withdrawal. The ROK PKMs approached the North Korean ship while sending out broadcast warnings calling on them to "go back to the Northern side of the NLL" and using sirens as a warning signal.
However, the North Korean patrol ship ignored such warnings and started moving further west across the NLL. Six minutes later at around 10:01 another North Korean patrol ship crossed the NLL, seven nautical miles west from the point of incursion of the first ship. As the second patrol ship advanced as far as three nautical miles south of the NLL, two ROK PKMs which were patrolling the nearby waters were sent into that area. From a distance of one nautical mile, the PKMs sent out warnings and used sirens demanding the North Korean vessels to pull back.
At around 10:25, with about 500 yards between the ROK Navy speed boat and the second North Korean patrol ship, which by then was already three miles into the southern portion of the NLL, the North Korean patrol ship started to fire its 85-mm main gun, 35-mm auxiliary gun and hand-carried rockets at a South Korean PKM. The two ROK Navy PKMs, including the one being fired upon, unleashed immediate retaliatory gunfire at the North Korean patrol boats using all the 40 mm and 30 mm guns at their disposal.
As the gun battle broke out, at around 10:35, two PKMs and two PCCs - which were deployed nearby - and the two PKMs which encountered the first North Korean patrol ship exchanged rounds of ferocious gun fire for twenty minutes with the North Korean ships. The ROK Navy concurrently conducted rescue operations for sailors of the ROK PKM that was severly hit. Throughout the skirmish, the ROK Air Force kept a close watch against possible North Korean Air Force movements and forward-deployed its fighter jets to the skies over Dukjuck-do to conduct close air patrol operations.
At around 10:43, a loud bang broke out with huge flames billowing out of a North Korean patrol boat hit by hundreds of friendly rounds. Soon after, at around 10:50, the North Korean patrol boats returned north at speeds of under 8 knots per hour. We believe the damage inflicted on the North Korean crewmen and their ships were quite severe. As the North Korean ships began to pull back, the ROK vessels stopped firing at around 10:56 when the skirmish ended.
The commander at the site ordered the cease fire and stopped pursuing the North Korean patrol ships any further because an enemy vessel was seriously damaged and all enemy ships were retreating back to the northern part of the NLL.
As a result of the gunfight, four sailors were killed, one is missing, and 19 were wounded among the 27 seamen aboard the ROK PKM that was attacked without warning. The boat subsequently sank while being towed away at around 11:59. ROK sailors believe that North Korean casualties amounted to about 30 sailors and that their fire arms were nearly destroyed. The North Korean patrol ships were towed back to the North.
b. Responses by the ROK Government and Military
As soon as the gun battle broke out along the NLL over the Yellow Sea, the ROK Armed Forces heightened the readiness of all its forces as of 11:00. The level of watch over North Korea and our sea/air/ground was enhanced. Borderline forces along the NLL, coast, and the DMZ were augmented; commanders and staffs were on alert; situation duty was increased; crisis reaction teams were activated at above operation-command-levels; and readiness posture for the emergency reaction assets providing air power were strengthened.
On the other hand, the Chairman of the ROK JCS agreed with the Commander-in-Chief of the ROK-US CFC to issue a statement denouncing North Korea's actions; propose general-officer-level talks; activate a combined crisis management system; and heighten the military readiness posture. Additionally, the ROK JCS quickly held a press briefing at 13:00 informing the Korean people on the current situation.
At the request of the ROK Defense Minister, the ROK Government convened a meeting of the Permanent Committee of the National Security Council, or NSC, at 13:30, during which top officials discussed government-level countermeasures. This was followed by a NSC meeting chaired by President Kim at 15:00. It was decided during the meeting that the incursion and the attack constituted a clear violation of the Armistice Agreement of 1953. The government agreed to warn North Korea and issue a statement by the Defense Minister sternly denouncing the attack. A firm response to North Korea was coupled with an enhanced level of military readiness in order to alleviate public jitters and enable people to concentrate on their day-to-day business. The government also decided to express its condolences for the victims and take appropriate measures for their families.
At 17:00, 29 June, the defense minister issued a statement denouncing and warning North Korea on their actions while demanding an apology as well as the punishment of individuals responsible. The minister also cautioned that such attacks should never recur.
Statement on the Armed Provocation by North Korean Patrol Ships
by the Minister of National Defense, ROK
On 09:54 29 June 2002, two North Korean patrol boats encroached on the NLL over the Yellow Sea and viciously opened surprise fire on South Korea's navy patrol boats which demanded their withdrawal. This incident resulted in severe damage to our side.
The actions perpetrated by the North Korean military is a clear violation of the Armistice Agreement of 1953, and an outright breach of the contents of the first Inter-Korean Defense ministers' meeting in which joint efforts to ease tension between the military authorities was agreed upon. The ROK Government vehemently protests these intolerable provocations, and strongly demands North Korea's apology, punishment of those accountable as well as the prevention of its recurrence.
We renew our call on the North Korean military to cease its incursions over the NLL and its acts of provocations, and reiterate that full responsibility for this incident lies solely with North Korea.
Furthermore, the United Nations Command, or UNC, sent a telephone message to the North at 15:47 proposing general-officer talks at Panmunjeom to discuss the reasons for North Korea's actions, an appropriate apology, and punishment of responsible individuals. Also, at 22:00 of the same day, the UNC Commander, General LaPorte, made a statement, in which he declared the incident as a serious violation of the Armistice Agreement. Moreover, he urged North Korea to assist in the investigation on North Korea's violation of the Armistice Agreement, which is to be conducted by the UNC Armistice Commission
Statement by UNC Commander, General Leon J. LaPorte,
in response to Yellow Sea Armistice Violation
... This provocative act by North Korea is a serious violation of the Armistice Agreement, and could have serious implications in many areas. We are in close contact with the ROK government and will continue to monitor the situation carefully.
The United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission is investigating North Korea's armistice violation. We urge the North Korean government to assist us in this investigation....
2. Nature of the Incident and Directions of Response
The perfidious act of provocation by the North Korean patrol ships that crossed the NLL is a flagrant violation of both the Military Armistice Agreement of 1953 and the South-North Basic Agreement of 1992. North Korea is singularly and entirely to blame for this incident.
The preamble to the Armistice Agreement lucidly states that the objective is "establishing an armistice which will insure a complete cessation of hostilities and all acts of armed force in Korea." Under the subtitle of "Concrete Arrangements for Cease-fire and Armistice," Article 2 of the Armistice Agreement provides that "opposing sides shall order and enforce a complete cessation of all hostilities in Korea." Therefore, this surprise first-strike by the North Korean vessels, which violated the NLL and assaulted our vessel with full firepower including its 85-mm naval gun without prior warning, is evidently intentional and constitutes a direct infringement of the Armistice Agreement.
Article 9 of the 1992 "Agreement of Reconciliation, Non-aggression, Exchanges and Cooperation" between South and North Korea, which has been agreed upon, signed, and ratified by both parties stipulates that "South and North Korea shall not use force against each other and shall not undertake armed aggression against each other." Article 11 of the Agreement states that "the South-North demarcation line and the areas for nonaggression shall be identical with the Military Demarcation Line provided in the Military Armistice Agreement of July 27, 1953, and the areas that each side has exercised jurisdiction over until the present time." Also, in Article 10 of the "Protocol on the Compliance with and Implementation of Chapter ¥~+mn~, Nonaggression" states that "Until the sea nonaggression demarcation line has been finalized, the sea nonaggression zones shall be identical with those that have been under the jurisdiction of each side until the present time." These provisions make it explicitly clear that the incident blatantly violates the aforementioned inter-Korean agreements.
During the first inter-Korean defense ministers' talks in Cheju Island between 25-26 September 2000 held in the wake of the historic 15 June 2000 inter-Korean summit meeting, the two ministers agreed that "both sides shared the same view that to reduce military tension on the Korean peninsula and to remove the threat of war by establishing a durable and stable peace is a matter of vital importance and agreed that they shall work together toward this goal." A surprise attack launched by a North Korean patrol ship, not to mention continued incursion by North Korean patrol ships, are direct violations of what were agreed to at the inter-Korean defense ministers' talks.
In summary, the intrusion of the NLL by North Korean patrol ships and armed provocations are manifest violations of the Armistice Agreement and other South-North Korean agreements hitherto concluded. It is a grave incident that has undercut the reconciliatory and cooperative atmosphere since the Inter-Korean Summit Talks, and needlessly heightened tension on the Korean peninsula.
b. Intentional and Premeditated Attack
The very fact that the North Korean patrol boats initiated a surprise attack against the ROK PKMs substantiates the possibility of pre-meditated and intentional attack by North Korea. There could be a counter-argument that the incident was probably instigated by either a North Korean military right-wing faction in charge of the area or a rogue on-site commander - as opposed to the highest-level decision-makers with premeditated intentions. However, considering the nature of the North Korean political and military regime and the circumstantial evidence at the time of engagement, such claim solicits little credibility.
In particular, the followings points provide further evidence that North Korea has been preparing this provocation. First, an 85-mm gun, the strongest fire-power onboard the North Korean patrol boat, made a direct hit on the steering room of the ROK PKM. Second, two North Korean patrol boats simultaneously crossed the NLL and initiated a surprise attack against a rear ROK PKM of the PKM squadron, while the North Korean fishing boats were redirected to areas north of the NLL. Third, North Korea immediately refused to accept the ROK proposal for general-officer-level talks to consult on investigations into the incident and preventive measures. Instead, North Korea claimed that its actions were taken in self-defense, and reiterated its rejection of the NLL's validity, a subject that is irrelevant to the current issue.
c. Why did North Korea make this Provocation?
The purpose of North Korea's provocation can be analyzed from various perspectives. First, the incident could be a retaliatory measure to vindicate North Korea's utter defeat in the 1999 Sea Battle at Yeon-Pyung.
Second, the incident was probably aimed at interfering with the festive and successful mood of 2002 World Cup that pervaded South Korea, and devaluing the global reputation and national unity which South Korea is enjoying at the moment. North Korea has failed to attract outside attention to its own Arirang Festival held in Pyongyang from 29 April to 29 June, and was unable to crop the economic upsides it has long anticipated. Furthermore, it is likely that they hoped to distract international criticism away from a growing number of refugees and human rights issues.
Third, the provocation could have been intended as a gambit for future South-North Korean and US-North relations. In other words, they wish to gain the upper hand when South-North Korea talks resume, by highlighting the notion that 'Peace on the Peninsula' is unattainable without an improvement in relations with North Korea. In addition, it is possible that its ulterior motive was to make the US-proposed agenda ambiguous and instead gain leverage for negotiations, just before its meeting with US President Bush's Special Envoy to North Korea.
Fourth, in view of North Korea's announcement of the so-called 'Chosun Military Limit Line in the West Sea' and 'Passage Order of Five Islands in West Sea' and its continued encroachment of the NLL, it can be said that they are attempting to direct international attention toward the NLL issue and undermine its legitimacy. In fact, when we proposed to hold general-officer-level talks at Panmunjom, North Korea replied with a message specifying that "the ROK must abandon the NLL and the NLL removal issue is a priority for discussions." These responses from the North provide further evidence that their provocation is aimed at nullifying and invalidating the NLL.
d. ROK's Response
The ROK will thoroughly take into account various information and North Korean reactions, conduct analyses and assessments in order to seek adequate measures against North Korean provocations. What is nonetheless clear is that heavy casualties were inflicted on the ROK by first-strike firing of a high-caliber gun from the North Korean patrol boat. Therefore, the ROK government and forces must warn North Korea that will have to pay for its provocation.
First, the ROK government will demand a formal apology from North Korea for the incident, punishment of the relevant perpetrators, and assurance that such flagrant acts will never be repeated in the future. On the day of the incident, the ROK government, through the Minister of National Defense, issued an official statement strongly protesting against North Korea, and proposed that North Korea respond positively to holding general-officer-level talks at Panmunjom. The ROK government has also delivered its stern position and resolve to North Korea via various diplomatic channels.
Moreover, the ROK government will continue to reinforce Korea's combat readiness posture to deter any additional infringement of the NLL and military provocation by North Korea. Under the firm principle that "ROK forces (will) deny any military combat provocation by North Korea", ROK forces have maintained a strong combat readiness posture. The 29 June incident, however, warrants an overall review of our military readiness posture as well as the establishment of more concrete procedures that ensure prompt response capabilities. In particular, by analysing shortcomings latent in the naval warning posture and reinforcing operability and armaments of the maritime/air forces, rules of engagement(ROE), and standard operating procedure(SOPs), ROK forces will preclude any possibility of similar provocations by North Korea in the future.
North Korea should have no doubt about our unwavering determination to protect our sovereign waters and the NLL, and must not engage in any further provocations, which may escalate tensions on the Peninsula.
3. Lessons Learned
ROK Navy sailors have displayed proper combat readiness and responded as per the ROE. Nonetheless, we suffered heavy damage from the seemingly well-planned and long-prepared surprise blows by North Korea. Unlike ground battles, naval combat yields absolute advantage to the attacker that strikes first since camouflaging is not possible. Particularly, if a vessel's bridge(or steering room) or engine room - where command posts are most commonly situated - takes a direct hit, the vessel is immediately incapacitated.
However, in spite the first strike initiated by the enemy, the sailors showed strong determination and morale under the leadership of their direct commanders and officers. As a result, the seamen were able to inflict massive damages to more than 30 enemy troops and thereby successfully fend off further enemy progress south of the NLL.
Despite North Korea's first-strike aimed at the steering room and the high ROK casualties, the ROK sailors quickly mobilized themselves and prepared for counter-fires. Having had all his fingers severed by enemy fire, one courageous sailor even used his arms to lock the guns in position and shot the weapons. When the commanding officer of the boat lost his conscience, his deputy resumed the commanding role despite an open wound on his leg. The determined spirit of the ROK crewmen can be readily witnessed by the fact that all 1,500 rounds of ammunitions onboard were fired.
Currently, the ROK JCS is seeking measures to reinforce our readiness along the NLL, reviewing the existing ROE, and establishing a more effective means to fend off any armed provocation by North Korea.
The armistice ROE of the UNC and the ROK JCS SOPs will retain the basic principle of preventing an escalation of military conflict. Yet, if a hostile act by enemy forces is confirmed to exist, adequate measures within the context of self-defense is permissible.
The ROK JCS will conduct in-depth analyses on the incident from various angles to better guarantee safety and enhance the self-defense mechanism of friendly vessels via more flexible responses, and if necessary, reinforce the ROE and SOP through close consultations with the UNC. Vigorous measures will be taken in order to protect the NLL and our sovereign waters under any conditions and to preserve the safety of our vessels. By demonstrating our strong resolve and capabilities, we will deter all further provocations by North Korea. Furthermore, the ROK military will conduct close reviews on the operations and seek reinforcing measures to bring about effective force deployments and managements, while setting optimal conditions for joint operations and efficient information sharing.
North Korea has been punctuating the spirit of the S-N Joint Declaration of 15 June 2000 and demanded that ROK abide by it. By the same token, shouldn't the most important principle be "to prevent a tremendous calamity of war on the Korean peninsula and achieve unification of the two Koreas, which would maximize the interest of the nation and guarantee prosperity by means of peace"?
North Korea's provocation is not only a direct violation of the spirit of the historic S-N Summit but also an unacceptable behavior that undermines the confidence and faith we have worked for so far.
The international community is also strongly voicing its concern and interests in the North Korea-provoked incident. North Korea must cease all provocative activities that could escalate tension on the Peninsula, admit to its wrongdoing and deliver a formal statement of apology, punish perpetrators, and promise never to repeat it again. The ROK government will mobilize every necessary means, including diplomatic measures and international cooperation, based upon the ROK-US combined defense posture, in order to present a measure North Korea can understand.
The NLL on the Yellow Sea has functioned as a maritime boundary between South and North Korea since 1953, and has been reaffirmed via Article 11 of the S-N Basic Agreement of 1992. It is without question that the NLL continues to play a practical role as a maritime military demarcation line.
This incident served to remind us that the smallest degree of vulnerability in our readiness posture cannot be condoned. We were also able to reaffirm our basic mission of accomplishing our tasks with great determination, spirit, and close camaraderie.
Needless to say, the most important task of the ROK Armed Forces is to protect our people and territory. Amid a transitional security situation in which the mood of reconciliation coexists with military confrontation on the Peninsula, the ROK Armed Forces must contribute to bringing peace on the Korean peninsula by deterring North Korea's military threat through an impenetrable security posture.
Finally, the ROK Armed Forces highly praises the sacrifices of our sailors who defended the NLL and repelled the enemy by giving their best until the last moment in spite of the adversities surrounding them. In particular, the ROK Armed Forces expresses its deepest condolences to the families of the brave men who dedicated their lives in the battle and wish for the rapid recovery of our injured crewmen. You are the true pillars of Korea. Korea will always remember you.
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list