At the beginning of January, several North Koreans were caught while attempting to defect from North Korea by boat from Chongjin Port, North Hamgyong Province.

A source based in the North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on Feb. 5 that “a local who worked as the captain of a fishing boat was arrested in the middle of the sea by patrol ships while trying to go to South Korea with his family and crew.”

According to the source, the captain had learned the route to South Korea in advance and had already finished preparing all the oil and food supplies needed for his 200-horsepower fishing boat. Choosing a quiet day when nobody was at sea, he boarded the boat with his wife, son, and four other sailors, and slipped out of the Chongjin Port.

Only his wife knew that he had been planning to defect, and his son and the other sailors only found out once they were far away in the middle of the ocean. The captain proposed his plan to defect to South Korea to the sailors when they were on board, and the crew reportedly all agreed to the plan.

Wonsan sea
North Korean fishing boats on the water near Wonsan, Gangwon Province. / Image: Daily NK

Afterwards, they took turns standing guard over the ship and made every effort to avoid being discovered, and later managed to reach the inter-Korean maritime border. However, their boat, which had hitherto been operating without a hitch, suddenly broke down. In the process of hurriedly fixing the boat, they reportedly let down their guard.

“[The crew] was prepared to jump into the sea with their life jackets on if they were discovered, but because they were focusing on repairing the boat, they didn’t even know that the patrol ships were approaching,” the source told Daily NK. 

The source went on to say that “because they only understood what was happening when it was too late, all of them were caught, and they are currently being held at the Ministry of State Security’s provincial office.”

The source stated that Chongjin is still in a state of uproar over the incident. The families of the four crew members – all in their twenties, and who had not even known what would happen the day they went out to sea – are currently in great despair.

“As this incident was not a common case, it was reported all the way to the Central Committee, and there is no hope of the involved people surviving,” the source said. “All of them are expected to be sent to a political prison camp.” The source went on to say that as a result of this incident, the Ministry of State Security has strengthened surveillance of people on boats, not only at Chongjin Port, but also for boats affiliated with fishing companies.

*Translated by Esther Ra

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Jong So Yong is one of Daily NK's freelance reporters. Questions about her articles can be directed to