Korea cargo trading goes on despite skirmish

South Korea Koreas Nuclear
A South Korean Christian walks by a picture of the North Korean leader Kim Joing Il, North Korea's missile and a North Korean child during a special service for abolition of North Korea's nuclear program in Seoul, South Korea, on Nov. 15, 2009. Ahn Young-joon / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A North Korean cargo ship arrived in a South Korean port Monday, showing that trade between the rival countries is continuing despite their bloody naval skirmish last week.

The ship was scheduled to unload 1,750 tons of silica at Incheon Port, west of Seoul, following its departure from a North Korean port last Thursday, two days after the neighboring countries clashed along their disputed western sea border.

North Korea had warned it would take unspecified military action to defend itself following the clash — their first at sea in seven years. A senior South Korean military officer said the fighting left one North Korean crew member dead and three others wounded. South Korea suffered no casualties.

South Korea put its troops on high alert to cope with possible North Korean provocations, but has said it does not want to see the skirmish harm relations with its communist neighbor.

"We've been saying that we won't artificially regulate" inter-Korean trade and exchanges, said Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo.

She said other North Korean ships, carrying marine products and hard coal, have passed through South Korean waters following the skirmish, and that some South Korean ships have sailed to North Korean ports to deliver humanitarian aid.

South Korea is the No. 2 trading partner of North Korea, with trade volume reaching $1.1 billion in the first nine months of this year, according to the Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs.

At Incheon Port alone, 35 North Korean cargo ships had docked this year before Monday, port official Lee Jin-wu said.

The ship with silica was the first North Korean ship to enter Incheon Port following the clash and was to sail back to the North later Monday after delivering the cargo for a South Korean company, Lee said.

The divided Koreas have long been at odds over their western sea border and fought battles in the area in 1999 and 2002. The North insists a line imposed by the U.N. command at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War be redrawn farther south, a demand rejected by South Korea.

South Korean officials said they had not detected any signs of suspicious activity from North Korea's military following the clash.

South Korean media including Yonhap news agency, however, reported that North Korea briefly activated radar for its surface-to-ship missiles Sunday, forcing South Korean naval vessels to move away from the disputed sea border. The radar is usually operated before the North test-fires a missile or engages in a drill, but the reports did not say why the North turned on the radar for an hour.