North Korean youth’s claimed six-hour swim in chilly seas to south triggers questions

Questions have arisen over how a North Korean man was able to have crossed the inter-Korean sea border to defect by swimming for six hours in winter, and calls have grown for authorities to explain, Yonhap reports.

According to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), the man, whose identity is withheld, was captured on Tuesday following a three-hour search near the inter-Korean border in the eastern coastal town of Goseong. He expressed his intention to defect.

Defense Minister Suh Wook told lawmakers on Wednesday that the man is believed to have swum for six hours in the East Sea overnight wearing a hard-hat diving suit and a set of fins. Given his footprints were found some 3 kilometers south of the military demarcation line separating the two Koreas, he is likely to have moved around 10 km in the sea.

But many have pointed to unfavorable weather conditions on the day. The water temperature reached 8 degrees Celsius at that time, and a high sea warning was issued in the East Sea. The weather agency also issued a cold wave advisory for most of the country, including Gangwon province.

“Our judgment based on initial data was that survival in waters of such conditions was not possible. But we learned later that he layered clothes and then tightly wore a waterproof-type suit to keep himself from getting soaked,” Suh said during a parliamentary policy briefing session.

The man, in his 20s, is believed to be familiar with ocean circumstances, according to military sources.

Asked for further explanation, the JCS said: “The JCS and the Ground Operations Command have been carrying out field investigations. Once probe results come out, we will announce every possible detail while seeking ways to protect the man and his family in the North.”

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