A file picture shows a border area of North Korea's west coast as seen from South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island in the disputed waters of the Yellow Sea. File picture: Kim Jae-Hwan

Seoul -

Two North Koreans swam across the sea border with South Korea on Thursday, a report said, in a rare maritime defection across the tense boundary.

Two men - in their 20s and 50s - swam across the Yellow Sea border to the South's island of Gyodongdo at 4.00am (19.00 GMT on Wednesday), Yonhap news agency said, citing a Seoul government official.

They were spotted by marines and expressed a desire to defect, Yonhap quoted the anonymous official as saying.

Seoul's defence ministry spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

The duo are expected to be interrogated by Seoul's intelligence authorities before being sent to a resettlement centre for defectors.

The heavily-fortified island is about 2.5 kilometres away from the closest North Korean shore.

It is extremely rare for defectors to try and swim over the border, although it was not immediately clear just how far the two men had come.

Last month, a North Korean man sailed across the Yellow Sea border in a boat.

Most North Koreans who flee repression and poverty at home cross the porous border with China first before travelling to a Southeast Asian nation and eventually arriving in the South.

Few defect across the heavily-fortified land border between two Koreas marked by barbed wires and guarded by tens of thousands of troops on both sides.

Fishing vessels that stray across the border - unintentionally or otherwise - are often seized by the South Korea coastguard.

The crew members are then given the choice of remaining South Korea or being repatriated. - Sapa-AFP