A North Korean patrol boat recently fired live rounds at a Chinese boat illegally fishing in North Korean waters, leading to multiple deaths, Daily NK has learned.

“On Aug. 11, a North Korean patrol boat opened fire on a Chinese boat that was fishing illegally in North Korean waters,” a China-based source told Daily NK on Friday. “Three Chinese fishermen were killed in the incident.”

According to the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons, the Chinese boats were fishing illegally in coastal waters off the North Korean west coast, near Haeju and Ongjin County in South Hwanghae Province. 

Chinese vessels usually work in groups, and on this occasion there were around 10 boats fishing together when one was followed by the North Korean patrol and fired upon.

Three of the Chinese fishermen on board were reportedly killed on the spot.

“Up until last year, North Korean patrol boats had never gone beyond making threats so they could receive bribes,” the source said. “In the past, they would fire warning shots which, of course, could hit the other boats. This time, however, they fired directly at the fishermen and killed them.” 

The source believed there is a high likelihood the shooting was retaliation for an incident in July when Chinese fishing vessels rammed a North Korean patrol boat in the Yalu River delta. 

The Chinese vessel that received the barrage of shots was towed away by other ships in the fleet, and Chinese authorities have reportedly been trying to ensure news of the incident does not leak. 

A North Korean patrol boat near Sinuiju can be seen circled in red in this photograph. / Image: Daily NK

Tensions between Chinese fishing boats and North Korean patrols aside, a recent incident led Chinese authorities to temporarily ban their boats from fishing in the waters off Dandong, which sits right across the river from Sinuiju, according to the source. 

In June, an empty Chinese fishing boat was discovered in waters near Dandong, with bloodstained footprints and what appeared to be a piece of human ear,” the source said. “After the Chinese government conducted an investigation, they concluded that [the incident had] likely been committed by the North Korean coast guard.” Without any way to act on the evidence, however, the Chinese authorities appear to have put the case aside, he added. 

A source in North Pyongan Province familiar with this incident explained that such “untoward incidents” have been happening because North Korean soldiers have less income from bribes than before following the closure of the Sino-North Korean border. 

“Military units have become even more brutal since they are barred from going out to sea to earn money because of COVID-19,” the source said, adding, “The fact that they are willing to commit piracy and even murder has left [many] Chinese people frightened.”

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Ha Yoon Ah is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.