A group of South Koreans, led by famous rock star Kim Jang-hoon, reached the country's easternmost islets of Dokdo on Wednesday after three days of relay swimming aimed at marking Korea's 1945 independence from Japanese colonial rule.
Two members of the team arrived at Dokdo around 7:30 a.m., 48 and a half hours after the team departed the southeastern port of Jukbyeon, in a relay swimming project to celebrate the 67th anniversary of Korea's liberation from Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule.
The total distance covered in the relay swimming was about 220 kilometers.
They were accompanied by a small flotilla of escort boats. The main boat carrying the team, which also includes actor Song Il-kook and dozens of athletic college students, had planned to enter the port at Dokdo, but could not do so because of high waves.
"It would have been better if all of us entered Dokdo together," Kim said. "But I think this is meaningful in that we've shown that our young people are interested in Dokdo. The three-day journey was successful enough and I feel happy about that."
Japan has claimed Dokdo as its territory, and tensions have flared anew between Seoul and Tokyo over the issue after South Korean President Lee Myung-bak made a surprise visit to the East Sea islets Friday, becoming the first South Korean president to do so.
The U.S. cable news channel CNN also carried a detailed report on the project, portraying it as "swimming into the diplomatic row" over Dokdo between the neighboring nations.
CNN used Yonhap News Agency's report on Kim's comments shortly before jumping into the water.
"I will never make such a comment as 'Dokdo is our territory' when I arrive there. It's meaningless to do so because they are undeniably our territory," Kim said.
The 45-year-old rock star is well known for his love of Dokdo and for donations to charity groups.
South Korea has rejected the claims to Dokdo as amounting to denying Korea's rights because the country regained independence from its colonial rule and reclaimed sovereignty over its territory, including Dokdo and many other islands around the Korean Peninsula. Koreans also view the claims as a sign Japan has not fully repented for its imperialist past.
South Korea has kept a small police detachment on Dokdo since 1954. (Yonhap News)