South Korea Beefs Up Steps to Fight Chinese Illegal Fishing in the Sea

South Korea on Monday (December 26, 2011) said it will bolster efforts to counter illegal Chinese fishing in its waters, including issuing more firearms to coast guard officers and raising penalties against offenders.

The move comes after a South Korean coast guard officer died when he was stabbed by a Chinese fishing-boat captain earlier this month.

Seoul has been under domestic pressure to make a robust response to the incident, which came amid a rise in fishing by Chinese boats in South Korean territorial waters this year. Chinese fishing crews, seeking richer catches outside their regular fishing grounds, have become a flash point in broader territorial tensions involving China and its neighbors.

As well as clashing with countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam over sovereignty in the West Philippines Sea (South China Sea) in resource-related disputes, China was drawn into a diplomatic spat with Japan when a Chinese fishing boat and a Japanese coast-guard vessel collided in the East China Sea last year.

The Korean government says between 2,000 and 3,000 Chinese fishing boats operate illegally in Korean territory each day during peak season. Between January and November this year, 497 ships were caught, compared with 370 last year. A spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry said he couldn't immediately comment late Monday.

Korean coast guard officers cite increasingly aggressive behavior by Chinese fishermen trying to avoid arrest. Officers boarding Chinese ships have been attacked with metal pipes and knives, according to the coast guard, while Chinese boats have also been spotted banding together to thwart local authorities. In the past 10 years, 53 Korean officers have been injured while seizing Chinese ships. One officer was killed in 2008.

In its latest response, South Korea said it will start placing ex-special forces personnel into coast guard teams responsible for apprehending fishing boats, improve the coast guard's body armor and increase the number of patrol ships. The fishing equipment of repeat offenders also will be confiscated.

Officers will be allowed to use their firearms when their lives are endangered or there is no other way to subdue the perpetrators, said Yim Jong-yong, head of the South Korean prime minister's office.

Mr. Yim said Seoul will step up diplomatic efforts to get Beijing to cooperate in reining in the illegal fishing activities. Following the incident on Dec. 12 when the coast guard officer was stabbed by a Chinese fisherman, Beijing initially called for Seoul to protect the rights of the fishermen. It subsequently said it would work to educate its fishermen.

The Chinese captain involved in the Dec. 12 incident is currently in the custody of Korean prosecutors.

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