South Korea's Coast Guard said Thursday that nine North Koreans have arrived in South Korea after crossing the Yellow Sea aboard a boat from China in an apparent bid to seek asylum.
"The Coast Guard is investigating nine North Koreans who claimed to be refugees. They arrived late Thursday at the port of Gunsan after crossing the Yellow Sea (from China)," an official said. The port lies 274 kilometers southwest of Seoul.
It has not been confirmed whether they are family members or what kind of a boat they were on.
Sources said it is rare that a relatively large number of North Korean refugees entered South Korea on a boat, adding that a religious group was reportedly involved in the move.
The boat is anchored at a pier designated for the maritime police near the port after being towed by a Coast Guard patrol boat. Officials said outsiders' access to the pier is being tightly restricted.
North Koreans mostly defect to the South by stowing away on a vessel after crossing into China or moving to third countries.
Their entrance to the South came after a total of 31 North Koreans drifted to the South on a fishing boat on Feb. 5. Four of them have expressed wishes to stay in the South.
North Korea, which had accused Seoul of coercing the four into defection, withdrew its earlier demand to repatriate all 31 people and instead requested that the South send back the 27 North Koreans hoping to return home.