North Korea on Saturday said a South Korean fishing boat it seized "illegally intruded" into its territorial waters in its first direct official response to the incident.
"A patrol ship... captured one ship of South Korea on July 30 when it illegally intruded deep into the DPRK (North Korea) territorial waters in the East Sea of Korea," Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency said.
"A relevant institution is conducting concrete investigation into it at present."
The North Friday faxed Seoul's government saying it had seized the 29-ton boat and four crewmembers and was investigating the case, according to South Korean officials.
But Saturday's brief two-sentence dispatch was Pyongyang's first direct official reaction.
Seoul says the boat drifted into the North's waters due to a malfunctioning navigation system.
Seoul's Unification Minister Hyun In-Taek expressed hope Friday that Pyongyang would return the captured fishing boat "at an early date" together with its crew members, insisting the encroachment had been accidental.
Seoul says navigational errors led the squid-fishing vessel to drift into North Korean waters Thursday. It was seized by a navy patrol boat and taken to a port near the border with South Korea.
Hyun described the North's relatively quick responses to the incident as "positive," raising hopes the crew would soon be released.
Pyongyang was relatively quick in returning two South Korean trawlers that strayed into North Korean waters in 2005 and 2006.
But tensions, which date back to the 1950-1953 Korean War, have been mounting this year after nuclear and missile tests by the communist state.