North Korean military authorities praised the “hard work” of sailors on a patrol boat who recently shot and killed a South Korean fisheries official, Daily NK has learned.

A military source in the country told Daily NK on Friday that there is even the possibility that the authorities will give North Korean navy leaders who oversaw the unit in question a “commendation” signed by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the fisheries official was discovered during the afternoon of Sept. 22 by the crew of a high-speed boat in the Second Flotilla of the West Sea Fleet (Korean People’s Navy Unit 587)’s Eighth Squadron, which is based in Ongjin, South Hwanghae Province. The crew then reported the discovery to their superiors.

The Eighth Squadron is known for having fired on South Korean military units during the First Battle of Yongpyongdo in 1999 and the Second Battle of Yongpyongdo in 2002.

The source told Daily NK that after shooting the fisheries official to death at around 10 PM and burning his body with gasoline, the high-speed boat returned to port during the morning of Sept. 23. The country’s Naval Command reportedly sent a message through a landline to the head of the squadron’s Second Flotilla, along with the high-speed boat’s captain (a lieutenant), praising them for their “hard work.”

“They will likely receive a commendation soon,” the source said, adding that they had shown themselves to be “naval commanders” who can conduct a “naval operation” even in “times of peace.” The source noted further that the commendations will likely help their prospects of being promoted in the future.

A North Korean vessel on patrol near Daeyongpyongdo in June 2020. / Image: Yonhap

There are reportedly also signs that the General Staff Department or Kim Jong Un himself may bestow a message of thanks or commendations to members of the navy’s leadership. According to the source, they would be praised for “ensuring that a unit under their command admirably carried out their duties during an unexpected situation.”

The “naval operation” the source mentioned refers to North Korea’s so-called land, sea and air “lockdown operation” along the military demarcation line (MDL). From around the time a defector living in South Korea crossed over the inter-Korean border back in July, North Korean military authorities have ordered soldiers to “unconditionally fire upon illegal intruders.”

The Ministry of Social Security, North Korea’s national police agency, announced in late August that anyone found in a recently-established “buffer zone” on the country’s borders will be fired upon without warning.

While North Korean military officials are of the opinion that the high-speed boat simply carried out its mission based on these orders, there are still questions surrounding why the unit failed to fire upon the fisheries official upon discovering him, why they did so six hours after discovering him, and why they set him on fire.

“They hesitated somewhat about killing a South Korean civilian, so they monitored him while waiting for orders from above,” the source said. “The frontline units that failed to [detect] the defector who crossed the border [and in to Kaesong] were punished, so military leaders ordered that this time [the intruder] should be shot to death.”

According to the source, setting the man’s corpse on fire was largely aimed at preventing the possible spread of COVID-19 into the country.

“The high-speed boat was originally set to [return to port] on Sept. 30, but it headed back to its military base the day before yesterday [Sept. 23] and underwent a sterilization process,” the source said. “Another high-speed boat was rotated out in its place to conduct patrols along the sea border.”

It is rare for a high-speed patrol boat to return to port around a week before it is supposed to, the source said. The earlier-than-expected return of the boat to port may have been part of COVID-19 quarantine procedures.

Kim Jong Un, in a letter recently sent to South Korea’s government, stated that he was “very sorry” for the “unexpected and disgraceful event.”

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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to