Officer killed in crackdown on illegal fishing

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Officer killed in crackdown on illegal fishing

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Scenes from a war - (From top to bottom) A Chinese fishing boat is wrapped in wire to prevent the Korean Coast Guard from boarding in interceptions last month; Chinese fishermen tie their boats together to resist arrest on Nov. 17; Chinese fishermen wielding handmade spears as a Korean SWAT team tries to board their boat on Oct. 22; Bereaved family members of the Korean Coast Guard officer who was killed by Chinese fishermen yesterday grieve at a mourning altar set up at Inha University. [JoongAng Ilbo]

INCHEON - One Coast Guard officer was killed yesterday and another injured by illegal Chinese fishermen wielding deadly weapons to prevent being apprehended in Korea’s exclusive economic zone in the Yellow Sea off Incheon.

According to the Coast Guard’s West Regional Headquarters, Cpl. Lee Cheong-ho, 41, a member of a Coast Guard SWAT team, was stabbed by a Chinese sailor during an apprehension operation in waters about 85 kilometers (52.8 miles) off Socheong Island at 7:00 a.m. Lee died while being rushed to Inha University Hospital in Incheon, the first casualty in the war against illegal Chinese fishing since 2008.

Lee Nak-hoon, 34, a member of the SWAT team who interpreted in Chinese, was also stabbed in the stomach, but the hospital said the injury isn’t life-threatening.

The Coast Guard said it dispatched 10 SWAT team members after it detected two illegal Chinese ships and seized one after firing flares. The SWAT team jumped onto the vessel and arrested eight of the nine sailors on board, with the exception of the captain.

Lee Cheong-ho approached the wheelhouse with three other SWAT team members to take control of the ship and arrest the captain, who was barricaded within. He broke through the locked door with interpreter Lee.

The captain threw glass fragments and stabbed both Lees with glass and another deadly weapon. Lee Cheong-ho was stabbed in the left ribs several times, according to the Coast Guard.

The rest of the team arrested the captain and Lee was rushed to the hospital by helicopter around 8:30 a.m., but died during the transfer due to ruptured organs and excessive bleeding.

The Coast Guard said it will prosecute the Chinese captain for murder, violent assault and trespassing. The remainder of the Chinese crew will be prosecuted for obstruction. “We will file warrants to detain all the sailors for investigation,” said Ahn Seong-sik, chief investigator for the Incheon Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard assumes that Lee Cheong-ho didn’t use his handgun because the captain was the last sailor resisting and he had almost full control of the vessel. The second boat escaped.

The Coast Guard said that Chinese are continuing their illegal fishing because they can’t get enough fish in Chinese waters due to pollution and overfishing. In the last few years, Chinese targeted blue carp near Yeonpyeong and Baekryeong Islands, west of Incheon, but recently changed their targets to croakers, anchovies and mackerels, which are found in the southwestern areas of the Yellow Sea from October to December. The Coast Guard said it has caught 439 Chinese ships this year, more than 50 percent of them during the last three months.

A single Chinese ship can make between 20 million won to 30 million won ($17,400 to $26,100) per expedition, the Coast Guard said.

In 2008, the Mokpo Coast Guard arrested 11 Chinese fishermen near Gageo Island off the coast of Sinan County, South Jeolla. In the operation, a 48-year-old Coast Guard officer, Park Gyeong-jo, was bludgeoned with a shovel and wooden stick and thrown into the sea, where he drowned.

Following yesterday’s fatal encounter, First Vice Foreign Minister Park Suk-hwan summoned Chinese Ambassador Zhang Xinsen and strongly protested the violence against the two Korean Coast Guard officers, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

“China is enhancing education for its fishermen at the government’s level,” Zhang was quoted as saying to Park during the meeting.

According to ministry officials, the ministry is talking with its Chinese counterparts to find communication channels to discuss the issue of illegal fishing in Korea by Chinese vessels. So far, the issue has been dealt with between the fisheries authorities of the two countries through the South Korea-China Fishery Agreement.

“The Coast Guard will use its firearms more aggressively if Chinese defend themselves with weapons,” Commissioner General Mo Kang-in of the Korea Coast Guard said.


By Yoo Ji-ho, Kwon Sang-soo [sakwon80@joongang.co.kr]
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