Go to contents

After 30 Years, Goh, an Abducted Fisherman, Is Back Home

After 30 Years, Goh, an Abducted Fisherman, Is Back Home

Posted August. 13, 2005 03:06,   


Discharged in 1973, Goh is a Vietnam War veteran. After returning home in 1975, he was kidnapped to North Korea when he went out to sea for squid fishing for the second time. Afterwards, Goh got married in the North and worked at a chicken farm in Seongcheon, Pyeonganbuk-do. Goh’s family in South Korea believed that Goh was abducted to North Korea but reported him missing.

In 1997, an owner of an inn in Incheon contacted Goh’s family. She said, “I know someone who does business traveling between China and North Korea. She was given a letter.” Goh’s sister in Bucheon-si, Gyeonggi-do rushed to Incheon to pick up her brother’s letter. Goh Mahn-yong (44), the missing fisherman’s brother, recalled, “He wrote a very detailed story of playing with my sister and me at our childhood home in the letter. So I instantly knew that the letter was from my brother.”

Goh’s family applied for the family reunion in 2001 and 2003 under the name of Goh’s mother. But they received an unexpected reply of “identification impossible.”

Goh’s family concluded that they couldn’t rely solely on the government for Goh’s return. They made a plan of their own and asked for help from President of the Association of Families of Abductees to North Korea Choi Seong-yong.

In June 2002, Goh’s family was finally able to bring Goh close to the China-North Korean border. The family members went to Seoul with Goh’s mother and waited to meet Goh. But Goh did not make it to Seoul. Afterwards, Goh’s family had to fret for some time because they lost contact with Goh.

Goh made his second attempt to escape North Korea. He left Seongcheon on March 24 and arrived in Shineuiju, North Korea, two days later. On March 28, he crossed the border and came to Dandong, China. After leaving North Korea, he sometimes insisted on “returning to the North,” talking about his wife and children (a son and a daughter).

However, when he talked to his mother over his cell phone, he heard her saying, “I won’t die until I see you again.” On March 31, Goh went into the Korean consulate in Shenyang, China, a step closer to his family in South Korea. He arrived in Seoul on July 20 and underwent an examination.

Goh’s family reported frankly about how they felt, “It was confirmed with certainty that Goh is alive. But the government didn’t care about him. It was heartbreaking for us.”

Kim, Goh’s mother, sighed deeply, saying, “It breaks my heart that my son will be worried about his children in North Korea.”

On the day of his return, about 50 people came to Goh’s place and celebrated. Among the guests were Goh’s family members, relatives, neighbors, Lee Jae-geun, another abductee who returned in 2000, families of the kidnapped who were aboard Cheonwang and members of the Association of Families of Abductees to North Korea.

Sohn Bong-nyeo (79) was there, too, to celebrate Goh’s return. In fact, her son Lee Hae-woon (20 years old when he was taken) was the youngest sailor on Cheonwang. She cried out loud, “Why didn’t you bring my son?” Everyone became silent. Lee had reportedly planned to go fishing for a year and then pay for his high school education with the money.

Yang Jeong-ja (65, Ansan-si, Gyeonggi-do), a wife of Choi Wook-il (66), another kidnapped fisherman, appealed to the government, “As the inter-Korean relationship improves, the government must arrange for the return of the kidnapped fishermen as soon as possible.”

Chang-Soon Choi cschoi@donga.com