North Korean Ship “Wrapped in Flames” After Battle; No South Korean Sailors Hurt

The North Korean navy appears to have gotten the worst of it after an apparently calculated provocation along the Northern Limit Line, the Koreas’ maritime boundary in the Yellow Sea:

According to Joint Chiefs of Staff officials in Seoul, a North Korean patrol boat crossed the NLL at 11:27 a.m. and attacked a South Korean one after ignoring several warning shots. The South Korean side suffered no casualties in the clash that erupted shortly after the crossing and lasted about two minutes, R. Adm. Lee Ki-shik told reporters here.

South Korean officials said their side retaliated by firing back about 200 rounds with guns aboard the naval ship, which they say is more modernized than its North Korean counterpart.

The officials declined to give an assessment on North Korean casualties, but South Korean Prime Minister Chung Un-chan told lawmakers in a televised parliamentary session that the North Korean vessel returned “wrapped in flames.” [Yonhap]

The Yonhap photo accompanying the story appears to depict a previous clash, although the story does not clarify this.

The North Korean ship’s foray across the NLL appears to be timed to precede President Obama’s visit to the region. It’s also meant to make sure no one gets the wrong idea about North Korea’s decision to allow Special Envoy Stephen Bosworth to visit for bilateral talks.

North Korea also got the worst of previous sea battles in that area. In the most recent one in 2002, however, six South Korean sailors were also killed.

Most people have already forgotten that in May of this year, North Korea unilaterally declared an end to the 1953 armistice. We’ve forgotten because Kim Jong Il has few military options against the South that wouldn’t inevitably result in either a military embarrassment or more escalation than he’s prepared for.

If Yonhap’s “wrapped in flames” report is accurate, this could have the makings of a military embarrassment and serious harm to morale within the North Korean navy. That’s why it’s essential for the regime’s domestic propaganda machinery to report an alternative reality. That also illustrates why breaking down the information blockade and saturating North Korea with alternative sources of information can help preserve peace in the region.