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SEOUL — Government authorities here said a South Korean fisherman’s successful defection to North Korea on Wednesday has prompted them to review how they react to future attempts to cross the ocean border, a South Korean military official said Friday.

South Korean officials said Friday they believe Hwang Hong-ryun, 57, intended to defect to the communist country when he piloted his fishing boat from the port city of Sokcho toward North Korean waters, according to Col. Won Tae-je, a spokesman for South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, part of the Ministry of Defense.

Won said Friday that Korean officials believe Hwang’s defection was an impulsive reaction after too much drinking. Hwang’s family and friends told South Korean investigators that he had grown depressed recently, in part because his son was serving a prison sentence, Won said.

Won said South Korean authorities believe Hwang knew he was drifting to the northern side of a 2-mile ocean border that separates the two countries, much like the land-based Demilitarized Zone. The South Korean coast guard fired several warning shots, but the boat did not change direction, Won said.

On Thursday, North Korea confirmed Hwang was in the country, according to the government-run Korean Central News Agency. South Korea has asked for his return.

Korean media reported Friday that Hwang was able to cross the ocean border because of poor communication between military services, namely the Korean coast guard and defense officials.

Won rejected that assessment, but did say the incident has prompted the South Korean army, navy and coast guard to develop a more detailed plan for reacting to future defections at sea. He said part of the new plan would include establishing a chain of command and command center to direct future incidents.

South Korea still is investigating the incident, and some coast guard members may face reprimands, Won said Friday. He said, however, that the guard’s platoon leader at the site, whose name was unavailable Friday, will receive a commendation for his reaction to Wednesday’s incident.

The Yonhap News Agency reported late Friday that two two-star generals — one from the Korean army and one from the navy — and their junior officers were to be punished because of the incident.


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