South Korea's Coast Guard rescued a sinking boat carrying North Korean sailors in its water, with three of the passengers telling authorities they wanted to defect to South Korea, the country's Unification Ministry said Tuesday.
The boat was sinking off of Ulleung, an island about 75 miles from the Korean peninsula, when the coast guard intercepted it on Saturday. The other two sailors on the boat requested to be sent back to North Korea.
Pyongyang has asked that all of the rescued sailors be sent back, the unification ministry said.
"The North demanded that all five be returned," the ministry said, according to The New York Times. "But our Red Cross told the North that from a humanitarian standpoint we will respect the wishes of the three who have clearly expressed their intention to defect. We again told the North that we would repatriate the other two."
The two sailors who have asked to go back will be transported to North Korea through the village of Panmunjom.
These types of rescues in South Korean waters are not unprecedented. In February, two fishermen from the north were picked up and sent back home. At the beginning of July, five more fishermen were sent back after they were rescued by South Korea in the East Sea.
Pyongyang, however, has not always been as forthcoming with sending back fishermen found in its waters. Seoul claims that hundreds of boat passengers were held in the years following the Korean War after being found off of North Korea, according to the Times.
South Korean policy allows the country to take in North Korean defectors, with the country accepting an estimated 30,000 people over the last two decades.
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