June 11 (UPI) -- A North Korean fishing boat adrift at sea was rescued by the South Korean navy and returned to the North, Seoul said Tuesday.
South Korea's joint chiefs of staff said the boat, with six North Korean crewmembers on board, was rescued at 1:15 p.m., local time, on Tuesday, Yonhap reported.
"The crew of the vessel expressed their intention to return to the North," the joint chiefs said. "The North requested the rescue of the boat through communication networks."
Seoul said the rescue of the boat on "humanitarian grounds" was undertaken in the spirit of the Sept. 19 military agreement signed by the two Koreas in 2018.
The South Korean government said the crewmembers were returned to the North at 7:08 p.m., local time, at the Northern Limit Line on the eastern coast of the peninsula.
North and South Korea agreed in September 2018 to designate a section of the West Sea a "maritime peace zone" that is safe for fishing. On Tuesday, the military appeared to be suggesting the zone also applies to the East Sea, on the eastern coast of the peninsula, where the boat was rescued.
The joint chiefs of staff also said the repatriation is the first of its kind since the agreement on the implementation of the inter-Korea "historic Panmunjom Declaration" in the military domain was signed last fall.
South Korea is returning the fishing boat to the North at a time when the Kim Jong Un regime could be struggling with food shortages.
Pyongyang's meteorological agency said Tuesday crops are damaged in North and South Hwanghae provinces because of little to no rainfall from January to May.
The country needs 23 inches of rain from June to September, but since 2014 precipitation has reached 70 to 80 percent of required levels for crops in the region, North Korea said.