SK ready to receive fishermen

SEOUL: South Korea will send five border patrol boats to receive four fishermen who are set to be freed later on Saturday after being detained for almost a month by North Korea, police said.

In the latest conciliatory gesture from the hardline regime, Pyongyang on Friday told the South that the fishermen would be freed at 5:00 pm (0800 GMT) on Saturday along with their boat, Seoul's unification ministry said.

The boat drifted into the North's territorial waters off the east coast on July 30 in an incident blamed on a malfunctioning navigation system.

"We will send five patrol boats led by a 500-tonne vessel," Maritime Police Spokesman Yun Byung-Doo told AFP.

"They will be handed over to the South's side some 16 miles off (the South's northeastern port of) Jeojin at 5:00 pm," he said.

The boat and the crew will then be escorted to South Korea's Sokcho Port, a three-hour journey by sea, he said.

Families of the fishermen were jubilant at the news.

"I am overjoyed. I don't know how I spent the past month," Lee Ah-Na, the wife of the boat's skipper, told Yonhap News Agency from Geojin, a northeastern port near the inter-Korean border where the boat is registered.

After months of sabre-rattling, including missile launches and a nuclear test which brought tougher United Nations sanctions, the communist state has made a series of peace overtures to Seoul and Washington.