US Department of State

Washington, D.C. 20520
February 23, 1968


On January 23 (Korea time) North Korea seized in international waters in the Sea of Japan the USS PUEBLO, a United States Navy intelligence collection auxiliary vessel, and her 83-man crew. The ship's position, as established by her own messages and by North Korean messages monitored by us, was more than 16 nautical miles from the nearest land, the small island of Ung-Do. Thus the PUEBLO was outside North Korea's territorial waters, even if that country's claim to 12-mile territorial waters were recognized.

The captain of the PUEBLO was under strict orders to proceed no closer than 13 nautical miles from the North Korean coast at any time during its mission off North Korea. Although the North Koreans have charged that the PUEBLO a number of times intruded beyond the 12-mile limit they claim, we have no information that would substantiate these charges. If we discover any additional facts after the release of the crew and vessel, we will make these public. It is clear, in any event, that the seizure occurred in international waters.

Obviously the United States Government views this action by North Korea, which is virtually unprecedented in modern times, with the utmost gravity. No sovereign nation can ignore the illegal boarding of one of its naval vessels on the high seas and the seizure of its crew. The United States has taken prompt diplomatic action to obtain the release of the PUEBLO and her crew and we continue to pursue vigorously our diplomatic effort to seek a peaceful solution to this problem. We have also taken certain precautionary military moves.

The PUEBLO had every right to operate in international waters, and her mission was important to the security of the United States. The United States and other major powers undertake such missions in international waters in many areas of the world.

The North Korean action is not only against all principles of international law, but is against international practice and past experience involving this type of ship. Since naval vessels enjoy sovereign immunity on the high seas, the United States does not provide protective escort for these ships, nor do other powers also operating intelligence collection vessels.

Vessels engaged in missions such as the PUEBLO's are frequently subject to harassment, and the sighting of North Korean vessels was not unexpected and initially was not considered of particular significance. It was only after the North Koreans made clear their intent to actually board the vessel that the captain asked for help. A number of factors, including time, distance, and the approaching darkness, led to the decision by military commanders that the PUEBLO could not be rescued by any military action before it had entered Wonsan harbor. There were no naval forces which could have reached the area in time. Aircraft could have done so, but in addition to not wanting to endanger the safety of the crew of the PUEBLO the field commanders had to consider the likelihood that the North Koreans would be able to put up a sizable defense force.

Until the captain and crew Of the PUEBLO have been recovered, we cannot know with certainty just what happened [sic] on the ship after the North Koreans began to board. If the ship's light weapons and small arms were not used, this would be very understandable. The problem of scuttling rapidly a ship of this type and the possible consequences for the crew of such an attempt presented another difficult decision. We do know that the moment the North Korean intention to board became apparent, the personnel of the ship began, in accordance with their standing orders, to destroy as much as possible of the sensitive equipment and-documents on board.


Our diplomatic efforts have included requests to the Soviet Union that it use its good offices with North Korea in an attempt to obtain the release of the PUEBLO and its crew. Our first request to the Soviets was made within a few hours after we received word of the PUEBLO's seizure. We raised this issue with the North Koreans on January 24 at an already scheduled meeting of the Military Armistice Commission in Panmunjom, and the Senior United States Member of the Military Armistice Commission has met several times with the North Korean Senior Member. We have also taken action at the United Nations Security Council and through other channels. Our talks with the North Koreans at Panmunjom have not given any encouragement that the ship and crew will be released soon, but the holding of the talks themselves might be considered progress. We will continue to pursue our diplomatic efforts in order to seek a peaceful solution to this matter.

We have asked the International Commission of the Red Cross to seek information regarding the crew and its welfare. We have been informed by other sources that those injured are receiving medical treatment, that the body of one dead crew member is being held, and that the other members of the crew are being well treated. The names of the dead and injured have been released to us by the North Koreans, and have been announced by the Defense Department.

The North Koreans broadcast a statement that the crew of the PUEBLO were "criminals" and should therefore be dealt with "according to law." The United States Government has made it clear that we would view any such development as a deliberate aggravation of an already serious situation.

The North Koreans have broadcast alleged confessions by certain of the PUEBLO's officers. International evidence in the texts points clearly to fabrications.

Why did North Korea carry out such a provocative and unprecedented action against the United States? We don't know with certainty. However, since the fall of 1966 the North Koreans have carried out a campaign of violence and hostility against South Korea and United States forces in South Korea.


North Korean violations of the Armistice Agreement increased more than ten-fold in 1967 over the preceding year. The North Korean campaign culminated in the recent North Korean attempt to assassinate South Korean President Park and in the illegal seizure of the PUEBLO. These incidents may have had some connection with the Viet-Nam situation, in that they may be an attempt by the Communists to divert South Korean and United States military resources which together are resisting the aggression in Viet-Nam. The incidents are, moreover, in accord with North Korea's over-all aggressive posture directed at South Korea and the United States. Furthermore, South Korea has made substantial progress in economic development and political stability in recent years, and is playing an increasingly important role in Asian regional cooperation. The North Korean actions may be an effort to disrupt this progress.

The United States Government intends to continue to pursue its efforts to seek the return of the PUEBLO and her crew and to strengthen ROK capability to deal with North Korean harassment. This situation cannot be resolved to the satisfaction of the United States until the crew and the vessel are returned, and the North Koreans cease their flagrant and provocative violations of the Armistice Agreement.

Provided by Harry Iredale
Copyright 2018 USS PUEBLO Veteran's Association. All rights reserved.
the PUEBLO Incident

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