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Off the grid: North Korean sub fleet’s mystery mission


Two-thirds of North Korea’s submarine fleet was reportedly on the move and off of Seoul’s sonar this week despite an announcement by the two Koreas that they were ratcheting down the saber rattling that followed a land mine explosion in the demilitarized zone earlier this month.

More than 50 North Korean subs, believed to represent about 70 percent of Pyongyang’s fleet — were still unaccounted for Wednesday in a potentially ominous development that a spokesman for South Korea’s Defense Ministry called “unprecedented.” Seoul and the U.S., which maintains a strong presence in South Korea, responded by increasing military surveillance.

“The number is nearly 10 times the normal level … we take the situation very seriously,” Kim Min-seok, the defense ministry spokesman, said Tuesday.

“No one knows whether the North will attack our warships or commercial vessels.”

– Kim Min-seok, South Korea defense ministry spokesman

South Korean news agency Yonhap quoted a military official as saying the country was “mobilizing all our surveillance resources” to find the missing subs. Yonhap also reported that the submarines, which slipped away from their bases on Friday, likely had returned to naval bases in North Korea. But until they are accounted for, officials say their is concern on the seas surrounding the peninsula.

“We’ve said before the disappearance [of North Korean submarines] is a source of concern, and the fact is they are not easy to detect when they are submerged under water,” Kim said. “No one knows whether the North will attack our warships or commercial vessels,” the defense ministry official said.

Some 50 of North Korea’s 77 submarines were on the move as of Tuesday, but it was not clear whether they were headed back to port. (Reuters)

Pyongyang has also used amphibious landing craft to move special forces near the two nation’s maritime border on the Yellow Sea, Yonhap reported Monday.


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