SEOUL - South Korea has sent back a captured North Korean fishing boat after its crew requested to return to their homeland, military officials said Friday.
The vessel with three sailors aboard was seized south of the disputed Yellow Sea border late Thursday. It had refused to retreat despite warning shots from a South Korean naval ship.
An overnight investigation found the vessel could not sail north because of a sudden engine failure, the South's Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
The vessel was handed over to a North Korean naval ship early Friday after its crew told investigators that they had no intention to defect, it said.
The South's navy has told its North Korean counterpart that the seizure was aimed at ensuring the safety of the crew.
The maritime border, which Pyongyang does not officially recognise, was the scene of brief but bloody naval clashes in 1999, 2002 and 2009.
North Korean incursions over the maritime border are not unusual.
A North Korean patrol boat violated the sea boundary on February 25 at the start of South Korea-US military drills, and retreated after warnings from the South Korean navy.
Thursday's incursion came after nearly 15,000 South Korean and US troops kicked off a 12-day amphibious landing drill, the largest for two decades, off the South's southeast coast.
North Korea views such exercises as provocative rehearsals for invasion and there is a risk they could further fuel already simmering military tensions.
Pyongyang has carried out a series of rocket and short-range missile launches in recent weeks, sparking condemnation from Seoul and Washington.
On Wednesday, it test-fired two mid-range ballistic missiles capable of striking Japan.
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