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Battling high waves, survey ship slips into disputed ocean region

July 05,2006

This South Korean survey ship, the Haeyang 2000, arrived yesterday in waters claimed by both Japan and South Korea as parts of their exclusive economic zones. [YONHAP]

Despite earlier statements that a maritime survey in the disputed waters near the Dokdo islets would not begin until next week, a South Korean survey ship entered waters east of the peninsula yesterday claimed by both Tokyo and Seoul as their exclusive economic zone. Despite the distraction of the North Korean missile launches, Tokyo summoned up an angry reaction and said it would resume planning a similar survey in the area.
The foreign and maritime ministries in Seoul said the ship, operated by the National Oceanographic Research Institute, entered the waters near Dokdo at about 6:40 a.m., or about three hours after the first North Korean missile lifted off. A government official said the schedule had been advanced because Seoul did not want the war of nerves between Korea and Japan to be prolonged.
The ship might not be doing much scientific work, if that was the main reason for its dispatch. Officials here said it was fighting 5-meter (16-foot) waves. Because of strong winds and high seas, the voyages of private ships from the peninsula to Uleung Island and Dokdo were canceled yesterday.
“Whether the ship will continue the survey or not is the decision of the captain, taking into account the weather,” a government official said.
Korea’s maritime police sent 10 patrol boats to escort the ship in anticipation of a confrontation with Japanese Maritime Safety Agency ships. A sea patrol aircraft was also operating in the area.
Tokyo quickly demanded an end to the survey attempt, reminding Seoul that it had cancelled plans for a similar survey in April after Seoul demanded a halt. It said it would revive planning for its own survey to be conducted “at an appropriate time.”
Seoul reacted angrily to those threats. “It is extremely regrettable that the Japanese Foreign Ministry has demanded that a South Korean ship end a survey in South Korea’s exclusive economic zone,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “We want to remind Japan that it must seek approval from us in advance to conduct scientific research inside South Korea’s exclusive economic zone, and we urge Japan to act wisely and not damage relations between the two countries.”
Ban Ki-moon, Seoul’s foreign minister, also said a Japanese request for permission to conduct a survey would be granted without trouble. It also, of course, would be an acknowledgement of Seoul’s claim to the area.


by Ser Myo-ja


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