North Koreans may be resorting to Somalian tactics to overcome their crippling financial desperation. The Associated Press reports that a Chinese fishing boat has been taken captive by "unidentified armed North Koreans" demanding a $100,000 ransom in the next round of escalating tensions between Beijing and Pyongyang.
16 sailors were kidnapped on May 6th when their boat, Liaoning Ship No. 25222, was hijacked 40 miles west of North Korea's coast. Boat owner Yu Xuejun insists the boat was in Chinese waters and took to social media to report the incident after Chinese authorities failed to do anything for two weeks.
Chinese state news agency Xinhua finally reported on the incident on Sunday with the vague news that the Chinese embassy in Pyongyang "is working on the detention ... and is asking Pyongyang to ensure the safety and legitimate rights of their fishermen."
Chinese and North Korean diplomatic relations are bound to get more exacerbated as a result of this incident. China has historically been North Korea's sole ally, but has been growing increasingly frustrated with Pyongyang's tantrums, including another missile launch last week. China even took the unprecedented step to close North Korea's Foreign Trade Bank account earlier this month over charges that the bank was funding Pyongyang weapons programs.
This is not the first time that the North Korean coastguard or military have been involved with piracy. North Korean coastal towns along the Bohai Sea, a northern inlet of the Yellow Sea, have captured several Chinese fishing boats in recent years. They have stolen everything from these boats, including pencils, clothing, and even siphoned fuel.
The dire economic conditions that pushed Somalians to piracy were at least caused by political upheaval. North Korea, on the other hand, has been managed under extreme austerity measures that might be pushing its citizens to the brink.
The North Koreans' mandatory military service has mirrored the sad and desperate reality of the country, including being the "national carrier" of sexually transmitted diseases and photoshopping its navy to look more intimidating in press releases.
Meanwhile, boat owner Yu has been posting desperate messages on social media requesting the attention and action of anyone who can help: "My captain called me. His voice was shaking. I can feel that he is really scared ... I fear our crew has been tortured. I can’t imagine what the North Koreans will do. Everybody please help us."
Also check out this sad infographic on famine in North Korea (click here to enlarge):