Seoul said two North Korean sailors of the five rescued on Saturday have expressed a desire to return to North Korea. They are to be repatriated at Panmunjom, the truce village between North and South Korea. UPI/Stephen Shaver | License Photo
SEOUL, July 7 (UPI) -- Five North Korean sailors were rescued near South Korea's eastern coastline, and three of the five have said they wish to defect to the South.
Seoul's Unification Ministry said on Tuesday the sailors had drifted south of a maritime border when they were found near Ulleungdo, a sparsely populated South Korean island with around 10,000 inhabitants.
South Korea coast guard rescued the North Korean vessel and the five sailors onboard on Saturday, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.
Seoul said it has delivered the message of the rescue to Pyongyang, using a direct phone line of the South Korea Red Cross.
South Korea's attempt to repatriate the two of the five sailors who wished to return to the North, however, was met with a rebuttal.
On Tuesday, Pyongyang returned the South's message, and said all five North Koreans must be repatriated. Seoul said the three who said they wished to defect would not be returned on humanitarian grounds.
South Korean media outlet No Cut News reported Seoul said the remaining two sailors who expressed a desire to return to North Korea are to be repatriated at Panmunjom, the truce village between North and South Korea.
A Unification Ministry spokesman said the North Korean ship had been flooded at the time of the rescue and was sinking.
The damage to the ship was impossible to repair, and the ship was discarded after the rescue.
North and South Korea have stood by the practice of returning citizens who are found to have drifted into the other's territory.
On June 16, South Korea rescued a North Korean fisherman trapped on an inoperative squid boat.
The North Korean said he wished to defect to the South, according to Seoul.