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Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
South Korea at working-level military talks held at Panmunjom on Wednesday delivered the two Korea’s first jointly-produced nautical chart of the Han/Imjin River Estuary to North Korean counterparts.
The nautical chart was produced following a jointly-run field survey by North and South Korean researchers of a planned joint utilization zone in the Han/Imjin River Estuary between November 5 and December 9, agreed to in September’s inter-Korean military agreement.
The investigation was the first to be conducted in the Estuary – where the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) is not in force – since the division of the peninsula.
Seoul has said the absence of the MDL has raised the possibility of accidental clashes between the two Koreas taking place in the area, and the free navigation of civilian vessels in the region has been restricted for 65 years.
Speaking at a news conference, Director General at South Korea’s Hydrographic and Oceanographic Agency (KHOA) Kang Yong-seok said the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries (MOF) had provided the nautical chart to the ROK military.
The South Korean Ministry of National Defense (MND) then announced it would deliver the chart to North Korean counterparts at a working-level military meeting at 1000 local time at the T-3 building of the Military Armistice Commission (MAC) in the Joint Security Area (JSA) at Panmunjom.
Seoul and Pyongyang both dispatched five-member delegations to the meeting, led by Cho Yong-kun, Director of North Korea Policy Division at the MND, and North Korean Army colonel-level official Ham In Sop.
The ROK MND also said the two Koreas have agreed to allow the free navigation of civil vessels in the area on a trial basis from April 1, in a separate statement issued after the 35-minute working-level talks.
“The nautical chart of waters, to be jointly used by the South and the North, aims to provide information on the sea route, which is necessary to secure the safety of vessels navigating in the region,” Kang Yong-seok from the KHOA told a press briefing.
“Therefore, it indicates the depth of water, coastline, and the location of submerged rocks,” he continued, adding the marine chart has a scale of 1:60,000.
A total of 20 North and South Korean researchers worked on the hydrographic survey, investigating a 70-kilometer long stretch of water between Maldo-ri in Ganghwa County and Manu-ri in Paju city.
Though the two Koreas collaborated on the hydrographic survey, the nautical chart was produced by the South Korean side.
Seoul in November announced that it expected to spend around KRW499 million (USD$444,147) on the joint waterway survey, borrowing small-scale ships and portable survey equipment from third parties due to the difficulty of bringing large research vessels into the area.
Following a news conference on Wednesday, a senior official at KHOA stressed the need for further investigation to allow the navigational guide map to be used in inter-Korean economic cooperation.
“A variety of economic activities can take place in the region after unification,” Lim Kwan-chang, who serves as Deputy Director at Planning and Budget Team, General Service Division at KHOA, said.
But, Lim added, the current data is not sufficient to use in economic projects as it was produced based on general investigations, reiterating that a “precise survey” would be needed.
Following the signing of the military agreement in September, the ROK MND said “multi-purpose projects” including tourism, recreation, and ecological preservation could take place in the Han River Estuary in the future.
Speaking at the news conference, the KHOA also announced a plan to produce a digital and paper nautical chart combining information from the inter-Korean joint utilization zone in the Han River Estuary and with data from the surrounding areas.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: Wikimedia Commons