A family of four was arrested off the coast of Hongwon County in South Hamggyong Province while attempting to flee North Korea in a small wooden boat on Nov. 3, Daily NK has learned. 

The family’s patriarch worked at the Hongwon Fisheries and Mariculture Cooperative. He presumably had an intimate knowledge of sea routes which led to the family’s attempted defection by sea, instead of by land.

He was accompanied in his escape by his wife and two teenage children. 

The family boarded a boat that had been prepared beforehand at the cooperative at around 11 PM on Nov. 3.

They quietly rowed the boat towards a nearby pier, started the engine and then headed toward the open sea. 

Ten minutes later, a North Korean coast guard vessel appeared and demanded they stop. Flustered, the family tried to turn the boat around and escape.

In less than five minutes, however, the coast guard boat caught up to the small vessel and arrested the family. 

“After their arrest, the family was detained at a Ministry of State Security [MSS] jail in South Hamgyong Province,” said a Daily NK source. “The MSS is currently trying to discern whether the family was trying to escape to South Korea.”  


The MSS investigators are focusing their questions on whether the family has relatives in South Korea or China, their ideological backgrounds, and level of involvement in North Korea’s “organizational life,” Daily NK sources reported. 

Investigators are also interviewing those who know the family to get a comprehensive picture of the family’s background, sources said.  

Investigators have reportedly taken measures to prevent news of the family’s arrest from circulating in the country. 

Daily NK sources speculate that the manager of the Hongwon Fisheries and Mariculture Cooperative and the cooperative’s party committee director may also be held responsible for the attempted defection. 

The family’s arrest will likely lead to increased crackdowns on fishermen who slip out to the sea at night to fish. Local fishermen are reportedly concerned that this increased attention toward their activities will make their livelihoods more difficult. 


Daily NK sources reported that the coast guard officers who caught the family trying to escape have received official commendations for their actions. 

North Korean officials are also calling on other members of the coast guard and military to follow their example. The officials are equating the coast guard’s actions to stop the defection with success on the battlefield, sources said. 

“All the higher-ups in the coast guard unit involved in the arrest praised the arresting officers for their quick-witted appraisal of the situation,” one of the sources confirmed. 

North Korean officials are holding short education sessions seven minutes before the start of evening shifts to emphasize the responsibility coast guard units have to catch defectors. 

“They are telling the officers to ensure the areas they are responsible for at sea are like impregnable fortresses,” the source added.  

Daily NK sources pointed out that many North Koreans would be critical about the arrest if they knew about it. 

“They would point of the hypocrisy of the state spreading propaganda about how the military loves the people,” one of the sources said.

*Translated by Violet Kim

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@gmail.com.

Jeong Tae Joo is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. He focuses on North Korean military matters. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.