North Korea has detained 15 Russian and two South Korean crew of a fishing vessel, according to Seoul officials and the Russian embassy in Pyongyang.
The crew members were detained on July 17 by border guards, the embassy said in a Facebook post on Wednesday.
Russian embassy officials met the Russian captain and a deputy, who were staying at a hotel in the North Korean city of Wonsan, together with the two South Korean sailors, the statement said, adding that the rest of the crew was still on the ship in Wonsan’s port.
“All the crew members are in good health,” it said, adding that “the clarification of what happened” was under way.
The ship was identified by the embassy as the Xiang Hai Lin 8, owned by the Northeast fishery company out of Nevelsk, Russia.
According to the embassy, North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the crew was detained for “violating the rules of entry and stay” in North Korea.
The embassy said it was in “constant contact” with the North Korean government and was taking all necessary measures to resolve the situation.
South Korea‘s Unification Ministry in charge of inter-Korean affairs said on Wednesday that the two South Korean sailors were safe and Seoul has been striving to secure their freedom through consultations with their families, North Korea and Russia.
The ministry said the ship left the South Korean port of Sokcho on July 16.
The deputy director of Northeast, Sergei Sedler, said the vessel was fishing for crab and travelled from South Korea to the Sea of Japan when it was detained some 55 nautical miles (100 kilometres) from the North Korean border.
“Twice a day they are questioning and searching them in a very harsh manner,” he was cited as saying by Russia’s Kommersant newspaper, referring to the crew.
Russia has maintained relatively close ties with North Korea, and has continued to be a regular trade partner.
Russian coast guards frequently detain North Korean fishermen in the Far East, many of whom use rudimentary wooden boats. Some of them are sentenced to prison.
South Korea has sought to ease tensions with its northern neighbour, but South Koreans are still banned by their government from going to North Korea without Seoul’s permission.