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Korean maritime border incidents

Korean maritime border incidents
Part of the Division of Korea

Incidents have occurred in waters south of the Northern Limit Line, shown in red separating North and South Korea.
Date 19 January 1967 – present
(49 years and 2 days)
Location Northern Limit Line, Yellow Sea
Result Conflict ongoing
 Democratic People's Republic of Korea  Republic of Korea
 United States
Casualties and losses
As of November 2010:
53 killed
95 wounded
1 torpedo boat sunk
1 gunboat damaged
6 patrol boats damaged
As of November 2010:
93 killed
99 wounded
1 corvette sunk
1 patrol craft escort sunk
1 patrol boat sunk
1 corvette damaged
2 patrol boats damaged
As of November 2010:
2 South Korean civilians killed
3 South Korean civilians wounded

Korean maritime border incidents, sometimes referred to as the Crab Wars,[1] are a series of military clashes between North Korea and South Korea in the Yellow Sea (aka West Sea) off the west coast of the Korean peninsula. The clashes have occurred after the Korean Armistice Agreement, which did not resolve the nature of the maritime boundary in the West Sea. They have been aggravated by the presence of a rich fishing ground which is valued by both countries.


  • History 1
  • Chronology 2
    • 1967 incident 2.1
    • 1999 incident 2.2
    • 2002 incident 2.3
    • 2004 incident 2.4
    • 2009 incident 2.5
    • 2010 incidents 2.6
      • January 2.6.1
      • March 2.6.2
      • November 2.6.3
    • 2014 incidents 2.7
  • Notes 3
  • References 4


In 1953 the Korean Armistice Agreement ending the Korean War and establishing the Military Demarcation Line on land made no provision for the boundary between North and South in the Western Sea. In this area a number of islands, belonging to South Korea, lay off the Ongjin Peninsula, now occupied by North Korea.

After the United Nations Command failed to reach an agreement with North Korea, the Northern Limit Line was unilaterally set by the U.S.-led United Nations military forces on August 30, 1953. The line was originally drawn, when North Korea had no significant naval forces, as a practical operational control measure to prevent southern incursions into the north. However, its role has since transformed to prevent North Korean ships heading south.[2][3]

This line identified the northern ambit of the area patrolled by UN forces in the Yellow Sea. It is unclear when North Korea was informed of the existence of the NLL. Many sources suggest this was done promptly, but in a now declassified 1973 joint diplomatic cable, the U.S. Department of State and Department of Defense stated that "We are aware of no evidence that NLL has ever been officially presented to North Korea."[4][5]

In 1973, the status of the NLL was challenged by the North Korean negotiators at the 346th meeting of the Military Armistice Commission.[6] At that time North Korea sent its patrol ships south of the NLL approximately 43 times in October and November 1973.[7]

In 1999, the words of negotiators were matched with more assertive actions as North Korean vessels began challenging the NLL, although there was no dispute that a few small islands close to the North Korean coastline remained within the jurisdiction of the United Nations Command since 1953.[3]

In 1999, North Korea unilaterally asserted a maritime Military Demilitarization Line which was configured in waters to the south of the NLL. The dissimilar maritime boundary lines became the foundation of the overlapping territorial claims of the two Koreas.[8]

Since 1999, North Korean fishing and naval vessels have regularly ventured across the NLL. In most cases the North Korean vessels return north of the NLL when challenged by the South Korean military; however sometimes there have been collisions between vessels and occasionally exchanges of fire have occurred. As the waters along the NLL are rich in Blue crab, the seaborne clashes have sometimes been dubbed the "Crab Wars".[1]

Serious naval battles have taken place between North Korean and South Korean vessels in June 1999, June 2002 and November 2009. In March 2010 the Cheonan, a South Korean naval vessel, was sunk by an underwater explosion near Baengnyeong Island. In November 2010 North Korean artillery fired on Yeonpyeong Island.


The disputed maritime border between North and South Korea in the Yellow Sea:[9]
     A: United Nations Command-created Northern Limit Line, 1953[10]
     B: North Korea-declared "Inter-Korean MDL in the Yellow Sea", 1999[11] The locations of specific islands are reflected in the configuration of each maritime boundary, including
1–Yeonpyeong Island
2–Baengnyeong Island
3–Daecheong Island

The chronology of serial events is a list of discrete incidents and a cumulative narrative. In the two Koreas, the unfolding story was shaped across the arc of an unfolding history.[12]

The significance of each naval engagements was construed differently in the two Koreas. Details about event were widely disseminated via newspapers, radio, television and the internet.[13]

1967 incident

On 19 January 1967, the ROKS Dangpo (PCEC-56) (formerly the USS Marfa (PCE-842)), was sunk by North Korean coastal artillery north of the NLL,[14] 39 sailors of the crew of 79 were killed.

1999 incident

On 15 June 1999, North Korean torpedo boats and two patrol boats crossed into the disputed waters, escorting a group of fishing boats. High-speed South Korean patrol boats approached the vessels, attempting to ram and repel them. The North Koreans then opened fire, which the South Koreans returned.[15]

The battle resulted in the loss of a North Korean torpedo boat, five patrol boats damaged, 30 sailors killed and 70 wounded. One South Korean patrol craft was lightly damaged along with a corvette.[15] As this was done against the backdrop of high level talks between the Koreas in Beijing, it generated considerable tension. However, neither side escalated, and the talks continued.

The United States and China both expressed concern regarding the clash and both expressed hope of a diplomatic solution. Furthermore, it drew attention to the widening gap in military capabilities between the two Koreas and humiliated the North, which styles itself a military power.[16]

The consequences of this 1999 incident would be revisited by Koreans during the course of subsequent clashes in the Yellow Sea.[12]

2002 incident

On the morning of 29 June 2002, two North Korean patrol boats crossed the NLL near Yeonpyeong island. When approached by two South Korean boats, they opened fire, which was returned. After a half-hour exchange, the North Korean boats withdrew to their side of the boundary line; one was seen to be on fire and badly damaged.

One South Korean boat was also badly damaged, sinking later whilst under tow back to port. Four South Korean sailors were killed, and 18 wounded; North Korean casualties are unknown.

2004 incident

On 1 November 2004 three North Korean vessels crossed the NLL. They were challenged by South Korean patrol boats, but did not respond. The South Korean vessels opened fire and the North Korean boats withdrew without returning fire. No casualties were reported.

2009 incident

On 10 November 2009, a North Korean gunboat entered South Korean waters off Daecheong Island in the Yellow Sea. The craft was intercepted by a corvette and four patrol boats of the South Korean Navy and a battle began. The North Korean vessel was heavily damaged by South Korean fire and fled back into friendly waters. One South Korean patrol boat was slightly damaged. One North Korean was killed and three others were wounded, the South Koreans sustained no casualties.

2010 incidents


On January 27, 2010, North Korea fired artillery shells into the water near the NLL and South Korean vessels returned fire.[17] The incident took place near Baengnyeong Island.[18] Three days later, North Korea continued to fire artillery towards the area.[19]


On 26 March 2010, the ROKS Cheonan, was sunk by an underwater explosion near Baengnyeong Island in the Yellow Sea.

A rescue operation recovered 58 survivors, but 46 sailors were lost.

In May, a South Korean led international investigation group concluded that the sinking of the warship was in fact the result of a North Korean torpedo attack. Included in this multinational group were experts from Australia, Canada, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.[20][21]

In June, North Korea denied involvement.[22]

In July, the United Nations Security Council made a Presidential Statement condemning the attack but without identifying the attacker.[23]


artillery exchange at Yeonpyeong Island—November 2010.

On 23 November 2010.[24] following a South Korean artillery exercise on Yeonpyeong Island, North Korean forces fired around 170 artillery shells and rockets at Yeonpyeong.[25] The bombardment caused widespread damage on the island, killing four South Koreans and injuring 19.

South Korea retaliated by shelling North Korean gun positions. As images of the shelling were spread by media and across the internet,[26] the sight of burning houses and plumes of smoke prompted international reaction.[27]

As an immediate response to the increased tensions in the area, the American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier [28]

2014 incidents

On February 26, South Korean defense officials claimed that despite warnings a North Korean warship repeatedly crossed into South Korean waters overnight.[29]

On March 31, following an exchange of artillery fire into the waters of the NLL, a North Korean drone was found crashed on Baengnyeongdo. The previous week, on March 24 another crashed North Korean drone was found near Paju, the onboard cameras contained pictures of the Blue House and military installations near the DMZ.[30][31]

On September 15, wreckage of a suspected North Korean drone was found by a fisherman in the waters near Baengnyeongdo. The drone was reported to be similar to one of the North Korean drones which had crashed in March 2014.[32]

On October 7, North and South Korean vessels briefly exchange fire near the northern limit line, there are no casualties.[33]


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ Elferink, Alex G. Oude. (1994). p. 314.The Law of Maritime Boundary Delimitation: a Case Study of the Russian Federation, , p. 314, at Google Books
  7. ^
  8. ^ Ryoo, pp. 13-15 (at PDF-pp. 21-23).
  9. ^ Ryoo, p. 13 (at PDF-p. 21).
  10. ^ "Factbox: What is the Korean Northern Limit Line?" Reuters (UK). November 23, 2010; retrieved 26 Nov 2010.
  11. ^ "NLL—Controversial Sea Border Between S.Korea, DPRK, " People's Daily (PRC), 2002-11-21; retrieved 2010-11-26.
  12. ^ a b (1999) Kwang-Tae Kim. "North, South Korea clash at sea before Obama visit," Journal News (US). November 10, 2009; published November 2009 image showing unidentified man watching tv re-broadcast of archived footage from 1999 ROK-DPRK naval clash]; (2002) Herskovitz, Jon and Kim Yeon-hee. "2 Koreas in brief naval clash, vessels hit," November 10, 2009; published November 10, 2009 image of unidentified man watching tv re-broadcast of archival footage from 2002 clash at sea; (2009) Kwang-Tae Kim. "North, South Korea clash at sea before Obama visit," Journal News (US). November 10, 2009; published image of 2 unidentified men watching tv broadcast as events unfold on the same day.
  13. ^ "Breaking news: South Korean ship," KoreAm (, US). March 26, 2010; published image of woman watching tv broadcast about the sinking of the ROKS Cheonan on the same day the ship was lost; compare Kwang-Tae Kim. "North, South Korea clash at sea before Obama visit," Journal News (US). November 10, 2009; Herskovitz, Jon and Kim Yeon-hee. "2 Koreas in brief naval clash, vessels hit," November 10, 2009.
  14. ^ "Marta". Department of the Navy – Naval Historical Center Official Website. Retrieved April 30, 2007
  15. ^ a b CNN - Seoul: Engagement to continue despite deadly Korean naval battle - June 15, 1999
  16. ^ Northern Limit Line (NLL) West Sea Naval Engagements
  17. ^ North and South Korea exchange fire near sea border. BBC News. January 27, 2010.
  18. ^ N. Korea fires into western sea border. Yonhap. January 27, 2010.
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^ Google search, images of smoke yeonpyeong, about 225,000 results; retrieved 8 Dec 2010
  27. ^ "Smoke with fire," The Eoncomist (UK). November 23, 2010.
  28. ^ Kirk, Donald. "USS George Washington heads for Yellow Sea; North Korea's top Kims visit factory," World Tribune. November 24, 2010.
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^


  • Elferink, Alex G. Oude, (1994). The Law of Maritime Boundary Delimitation: a Case Study of the Russian Federation. Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff. ISBN 9780792330820; OCLC 123566768
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