South Korea Investigates Mysterious Sinking of Unmanned Cargo Ship

South Korea Coast Guard
Coast Guard is investigating the mysterious sinking of a small cargo ship (file photo)

Published Nov 29, 2023 1:25 PM by The Maritime Executive


The South Korea Coast Guard has a mystery to unravel after they received reports of a small, 200-ton cargo ship sinking off the Southwestern coast early on Wednesday morning. So far, they have found no crewmembers but according to one report the ship may have drifted from China before running aground and sinking near Gageo Island.

The Mokpo Coast Guard and police station received reports from a passing ship that they had seen a ship sinking approximately 30 feet off the coastline of Gageo which is located approximately 250 miles southwest of Seoul. By the time the Coast Guard’s vessels reached the scene, the vessel was at a 45-degree angle and sinking. There were no signs of life, distress calls, or survivors in the area.



A search and rescue operation was launched and an alert went out to passing ships to look for possible survivors. At the same time, the Coast Guard began searching the Chinese vessel. They reported the lifeboat remained aboard the vessel and a search of the wheelhouse, cabin, and engine room found no one or signs of life.

Police onshore were alerted to begin a search as one scenario suggested that the crew or other persons might have used the vessel in an attempt to illegally enter Korea. The Coast Guard however said it was also not ruling out other criminal activity including the possibility the ship was intentionally run aground to sink as an insurance claim.

Advised of the situation, the Chinese Consulate-General placed a request for an “all-out rescue effort,” according to the Chinese media. The Chinese Coast Guard was also involved in the situation.



The Mokpo Coast Guard also began reviewing surveillance cameras from shore and the South Korean ports and interviewing other vessels and fishermen operating in the area. Some reports suggest that the vessel had been noticed in the area for the past two or three days.

Another report said that a Chinese shipowner in Shandong Province is claiming to be the owner of the vessel. Yonhap News Agency is quoting an official from the Coast Guard who said the Chinese shipowner said the vessel was anchored in Weihai and went missing on November 17. Shown a picture of the sunken vessel, he reportedly confirmed its identity. The owner reportedly also provided documents to support his assertions.

The Mokpo Coast Guard is now investigating the theory that the vessel might have drifted with no crew aboard for several days before going ashore on the Korean coast. They however were also continuing the search and advised local police to continue to look for possible illegal immigrants.