North and South Korea Exchange Warning Shots at Maritime Border
North and South Korea have traded warning shots near their disputed maritime boundary off the coast of Incheon, a frequent area of friction between the two nations.
According to South Korea's military, a North Korean merchant vessel crossed over the so-called Northern Limit Line near Baengnyeong Island at about 0342 hours on Monday morning. In response, a Republic of Korea Navy asset fired 20 warning shots.
North Korea's official news service said that in response, a coastal artillery battery fired 10 rounds into the North's own territorial sea. The North accused South Korea's navy of sending a vessel across the line.
Baengnyeong Island is a particularly sensitive location along the two nations' maritime frontier. It is near to the North Korean mainland and serves as an intelligence-gathering outpost; it is also a destination for refugees fleeing the North by boat. It has seen naval confrontations before: the South Korean corvette ROKS Cheonan went down off Baengnyeong after a suspected North Korean torpedo attack in 2010, killing 46 sailors.
South Korean analysts suggest that Monday's run-in is the latest in a string of North Korean provocations, following months of unprecedented ballistic missile tests on its eastern coastline. Three weeks ago, the North launched a test missile over the Japanese home islands for the first time since 2017. The unexpected launch prompted a rapid response from the U.S. Navy's Reagan Carrier Strike Group, which redeployed to the Sea of Japan to carry out air defense drills.
Defense officials in the U.S. and in South Korea have warned that amidst all of this troubling activity, Pyongyang may be gearing up for a new nuclear test, its first since 2017. South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said Monday that the North has finished preparations for another detonation, suggesting it may occur soon.