Captain discusses Chinese fishermen

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Captain discusses Chinese fishermen

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Kim Guk-seong

Kim Guk-seong, 56, captain of Korea’s Coast Guard vessel 3009, recently witnessed a harrowing incident while inspecting illegal fishing boats in the Korean waters 90 kilometers (56 miles) northwest of Hong Island in Sinan County, South Jeolla.

A 44-year-old Chinese fisherman surnamed Jang died after being shot with a rubber bullet, which was fired by a Coast Guard officer while on a raid in the Yellow Sea.

At the time of the clash on Tuesday, Kim said that the Chinese fishermen who were fishing for anchovies on the Korean side of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) used various kinds of weapons to defend themselves from being inspected.

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“Right after I ordered our team members to stop the illegal fishing boats from China which were escaping at around 3:30 p.m., two of our members collapsed after being hit with weapons used by the [Chinese] crewmen,” Kim recalled, adding that it was a startling moment.

“If our Coast Guard members at the time did not have helmets and shields, we could have also been victims.”

On Tuesday afternoon, around 30 Chinese fishing vessels were caught fishing in Korean waters. When Korean patrol boat 3009 approached the ships, Chinese fishermen reportedly fought off the raid with lances, hacksaws and knives, according to the Korea Coast Guard.

Whether or not the fisherman died because of the rubber bullet, however, is yet to be confirmed after the autopsy.

“The way Chinese fishermen swung saws, three-pronged spears and hatchets reminded me of pirates,” Kim said. “We have to go to war every night and day against Chinese fishing boats to defend our waters from the growing number of illegal fishing boats.”

Of the 30 vessels, the Coast Guard led by Kim managed to seize two boats.

Kim added that “The West Sea is simply a battlefield right now” and that “We [Coast Guard officials] have no choice but to risk our lives to inspect illegal Chinese fishing boats that are no different from pirates.”

“The West Sea is currently lawless with Chinese fishing boats invading our zone,” he said. “And because of them, Korean fishermen from nearby islands like Hongdo are having a hard time fishing in our own waters.”

The captain said that Chinese fishing boats, which usually are grouped in a fleet of 10, take around 100 tons of fish in total when they come on the Korean side of the EZZ.

Though Chinese fishermen have clashed frequently in recent years with the Coast Guard, Kim said that they started using weapons to defend themselves from the raid.

While tension has been growing between Korea and China over the incident, Korea’s Coast Guard said it will seek arrest warrants for 11 Chinese fishermen that have been fishing illegally on Korean waters on suspicion of using violence against officers during the recent raid.

On Wednesday, when announcing its interim investigation results, the Coast Guard managed to reveal through a five-minute video that captured the incident that the Chinese crew members were using weapons against Korean Coast Guard officials.

The deceased crew member Jang was violently wielding a handsaw when he was shot with the rubber bullet that was part of standard procedure “according to the formal guideline.”

The Korean and Chinese governments have reacted rather calmly to the incident, a move seen to prevent any emotional conflicts among the public or diplomatic tension between the two sides.

“We are valuable neighbors and Korea and China maintain strategic cooperative partnerships,” said Cho Tai-young, a spokesman at Seoul’s foreign ministry yesterday. “The incident that took place accidentally should not cause any emotional conflicts and calm responses based on exact facts are required.”

China also did not express any official protest against the Korea Coast Guard’s decision yesterday to seek arrest warrants for 11 Chinese fishermen.

By Choi Kyung-ho, Lee Eun-joo [angie@joongang.co.kr]

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