The two Koreas briefly exchanged naval fire on Tuesday along their disputed western sea border, with a North Korean ship suffering heavy damage before retreating, South Korean military officials said.
There were no South Korean casualties, the country's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement, and it was not immediately clear if there were any casualties on the North Korean side.
Each side blamed the other for violating the sea border. The clash -- the first of its in kind in seven years -- occurred as US officials said President Barack Obama has decided to send a special envoy to Pyongyang for rare direct talks on the communist country's nuclear weapons programme. No date has been set but it would be the first one-on-one talks since Obama took office in January.
Obama is due in Seoul next week. "It's a regrettable incident," South Korean Commodore Lee Ki-sik told reporters in Seoul. "We are sternly protesting to North Korea and urging it to prevent the recurrence of similar incidents." North Korea's military issued a statement blaming South Korea for the "grave armed provocation", saying its ships crossed into North Korean territory. The North claimed that a group of South Korean warships opened fire but fled after the North's patrol boat dealt "a prompt retaliatory blow". The statement, carried on the official Korean Central News Agency, said the South should apologise. (AP)