Three North Korean boats were found at sea in December, according to a Seoul government source on Wednesday. All crew members said they wished to be returned to the North. Photo by Yonhap/UPI
SEOUL, Dec. 14 (UPI) -- South Korean naval vessels rescued eight North Korean nationals adrift at sea but all crew members said they wished to be repatriated to the North.
A Seoul government source told Yonhap the men were found on three separate ships that were lost at sea for at least two months.
One of the boats contained the body of one crew member who had died of starvation, according to the report.
The boats were discovered on Dec. 11 and 12 off the eastern coast of the Korean peninsula, when they had floated into South Korea's exclusive economic zone.
"All eight crew members found on the three boats expressed their intention to return to North Korea," Yonhap's source said. "We are looking for ways to contact the North to return the sailors."
But reaching out to North Korea may pose challenges for Seoul.
Pyongyang terminated an inter-Korea communication channel at the truce village of Panmunjom previously used by the military.
The line was cut after the suspension of operations in February at the jointly operated factory park in Kaesong.
North Korean ships that usually drift into South Korean territorial waters are often handed over to the North from the Northern Limit Line, on the western coast.
Badly damaged North Korean boats are also restored prior to repatriation, but Yonhap's source said one of the three boats was beyond repair.
In August three North Koreans promptly sought asylum after being found at sea by South Korean coast guards.