According to press reports, a North Korean patrol boat crossed into South Korean waters at 11:27 am local time. A South Korean vessel repeatedly warned the North Korean boat to turn back and then fired warning shots across the bow. The North Korean boat apparently returned fire, prompting the South Korean vessel to open fire.
North Korean army officials claim the patrol boat was on “routine guard,” and that the South Korean vessel crossed into the North’s territory, according to the Korean Central News Agency.
The North Korean boat was “engulfed in flames” after the exchange, prompting its crew to turn back and head for shore, according to South Korean prime minister Chung Un-Chan. No casualties have been reported.
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During an emergency cabinet meeting, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak called on his military to “maintain calm” in an attempt to prevent the skirmish from escalating, reported Yonhap News Agency.
The naval clash was the first in seven years between the two countries who share the most militarized border in the world.
The incident comes just days before a scheduled visit to South Korea by President Barack Obama as part of his trip to Asia beginning Thursday.
North Korean leaders recently announced a willingness to return to stalled Six Party talks on its nuclear weapons program if the US agrees to direct talks as well.
For a timeline of past clashes between the two Koreas since the 1953 armistice, click here.