SEOUL, South Korea – A North Korean cargo ship entered South Korean waters Saturday — a sign that trade has been unaffected by a recent deadly naval clash off their western coasts, an official said.
The ship dropped anchor west of Seoul just one a day after North Korea's military threatened to "take merciless military measures to defend" itself and warned that South Korea would be forced to pay a heavy price for the recent firefight over their disputed maritime border.
A Unification Ministry spokesman says, however, that neither side has taken any measures to restrict inter-Korean trade — one of few legitimate sources of foreign currency for the impoverished communist North.
The naval skirmish was the first in seven years and came ahead of a trip to Seoul by President Barack Obama, who arrives Wednesday. A senior South Korean military officer said one North Korean officer died in the fight and three others were wounded. South Korea suffered no casualties.
South Korea responded by putting its 680,000-member military on guard, though officials said they have seen no evidence of unusual North Korean moves.
The cargo ship, delivering silica to a South Korean company, passed through the disputed border Saturday and is scheduled to enter Incheon port on Monday, said a Port Authority official. He asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to media.
The decision to permit the North Korean ship entry was made before the clash, Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said. North Korean ships have docked 35 times at the port the in the first nine months of the year, according to the Port Authority.
South Korea is the No. 2 trading partner of North Korea, with trade volume reaching $1.1 billion in the first nine months of this year, according to the Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs.
The divided Koreas have long been at odds over their western sea border and fought battles in the area in 1999 and 2002. The North insists a line imposed by the U.N. command at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War be redrawn farther south, a demand rejected by South Korea.