Skip to content

February 27, 1975

Telegram from the American Embassy in Seoul to the Secretary of State, “Yellow Sea Incident between North and South, February 26-27"

This document was made possible with support from Leon Levy Foundation



Page 01   SEOUL 01275   271040Z



FM AmEmbassy Seoul



SUBJECT: Yellow Sea Incident Between North and South, February 26-27


1. We have just reviewed report by CINCUNC [Commander in Chief of the United Nations Command] to JCS [Joint Chiefs of Staff] (REFTEL [Reference Telegram]). Report covers basic facts but there are number of details still to be fill in B[ [sic] CINCUNC.

2. From embassy viewpoint, we have following preliminary comments of our own:

A. Yellow Sea incident was first in our recollection to take place in international waters as clearly accepted by both sides. In past incidents, there has always been a claim by either side that incident originated in international waters.

B. While this is first incident involving North Korean fishing vessels south of NLL [Northern Limit Line] to our recollection, there can be a number of explanations for this. One possibility is that smaller North Korean fishing vessels strayed south and two larger armed North Korean vessels were sent south to direct them back north.

Page 02   SEOUL 01275   271040Z

C. At no point in our records of incident did larger armed vessels head toward South Korean territory, although they were moving southward when spotted and continued to do so. Ramming incident took place after North Koreans turned westward from South Korean territory to move out of area which CINCUNC defines roughly as ADIZ [Air Defense Identification Zone].

D. Our initial intelligence assessment of North Korean reaction leads us to tentative conclusion that North Koreans were reacting to what they considered to be unique action of engaging their vessels in international waters. Their reaction was in turn unique and uncharacteristic, particularly with respect to use of aircraft south of NLL and over UNC [United Nations Command] controlled Northwest Islands. Nevertheless, as REFTEL points out, North Korean aircraft actions were defensive in nature.

E. We also are concerned that North Koreans may be reacting to loss of two vessels in previous months and that as a request of this incident they may wish to even the score.

F. At present time our principal concern is continuation of tense atmosphere which could lead to further incidents initiated by the North or as result South Korean reaction to North Korean actions. I have spoken with General [Richard G.] Stilwell and he assures me that very tight control is being maintained over ROK [Republic of Korea] forces.

G. Finally I recommend urgent review of rules of engagement as they affect actions in international waters. As we understand current rules of engagement as explained to us by CINCUNC, our ships have right to challenge and week to board ships that refuse to identify themselves, where there is no clear evidence of hostile intent.

[Ambassador Richard] Sneider




The American Embassy in Seoul assesses the naval clash between North and South Korea in the Yellow Sea on February 26-27, 1975.


Document Information


Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, National Security Adviser Presidential Country Files for East Asia and the Pacific, Box 11, Korea - State Department Telegrams, to SecState - EXDIS (1). Obtained for NKIDP by Charles Kraus.


The History and Public Policy Program welcomes reuse of Digital Archive materials for research and educational purposes. Some documents may be subject to copyright, which is retained by the rights holders in accordance with US and international copyright laws. When possible, rights holders have been contacted for permission to reproduce their materials.

To enquire about this document's rights status or request permission for commercial use, please contact the History and Public Policy Program at [email protected].

Original Uploaded Date



Cable Telegram


Record ID



Leon Levy Foundation