North Korean officials declare no-sail zone

Apr 06, 2015, 1:10 AM EDT
Anti-war activists hold a banner demonstrating against the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic missile system during the visit of US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel outside the Foreign Ministry in Seoul on March 17, 2015.
AFP/Getty Images

North Korea has declared a no-sail zone for its ships off its east coast, South Korean media reported on Monday, suggesting more missile launches are possible before the U.S. defense chief visits Seoul this week, reports Reuters.

Pyongyang fired four short-range missiles off its west coast on Friday in what South Korea called a bid to stoke tension during its annual joint military drills with the United States.

The two Koreas are locked in a tense standoff, trading harsh rhetoric recently over the arrest by Pyongyang of two South Korean nationals it accused of espionage. It was not clear if the latest warning for ships to stay clear of an area off the Korean peninsula's east coast was a direct indication of an imminent missile launch.

"There are no signs of peculiar movements," South Korean defense ministry deputy spokesman Na Seung-yong told a briefing. Na said a no-sail warning had not been sent to Seoul or the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

North Korea has reported to the IMO before previous long-range missile launches, which it has claimed were rockets to launch satellites. The North is under U.N. sanctions banning it from developing ballistic missile technologies.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is due to start a three-day visit to South Korea on Thursday. South Korea's Yonhap News Agency quoted unidentified government officials as saying the no-sail warning has been in effect since April 1 and could indicate that a launch of a mid-range Rodong missile was "possible", according to an official quoted by Yonghap.