SEOUL, Nov. 7 (UPI) -- Two North Koreans who killed 16 fellow crew members on a squid fishing boat were repatriated by South Korean authorities on Thursday after being captured at sea near the Northern Limit Line, a maritime boundary off South Korea's east coast, the Unification Ministry said.
The two men, both in their 20s, were found to have killed 16 crew members, a spokesman from the Ministry of Unification said in a briefing.
"As a result of a joint investigation, the men in their 20s were found to have killed and fled 16 fellow crew members from a squid fishing boat operating on the East Sea," ministry spokesman Lee Sang-min said, according to South Korea's Yonhap News Agency.
As violent criminals, the two would not be recognized as refugees by international law, Lee said.
Yonhap reported later that the two had expressed an intent to defect.
Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul said that the killings took place on Oct. 31 and that the two North Koreans were captured by the South Korean navy on Saturday, South Korean media reported.
Kim said that a joint investigation found that three men had conspired to kill the boat's captain due to his harsh behavior while on squid-fishing expeditions from North Korea's Kimchaek Port into Russian waters.
The three then killed the other 15 crew members to cover up the crime and dumped all bodies overboard. One was arrested by police back at Kimchaek Port, while the other two mutineers escaped back to sea.
Kim said that the two fugitives evaded the South Korean navy in the East Sea for two days after first crossing into the South.
The two men were sent back to North Korea via the border village of Panmunjom at 3:12 p.m. on Thursday, Kim said. It was the South's first deportation of North Koreans through Panmunjom.
This story was updated to add that the men who were repatriated had expressed an intent to defect to South Korea.