Safeguarding our waters

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Safeguarding our waters

Cho Youn-kil, governor of Ongjin County, Gyeonggi, which is made up of islands in the Yellow Sea off Incheon, sent a letter to President Park Geun-hye pleading for her to protect the county from illegal fishing boats from China. He proposed that the abandoned Daecheong naval base be turned into Coast Guard headquarters so that a patrol ship could be on standby to guard against unwanted visitors.

Chinese fishermen have become bolder and sometimes deadly. A fleet of 50 vessels moves together to intimidate and prevent Korean fishermen from fishing in their own waters. An army of dragnets combs through the bottom of the sea and even sweep up young fish, and the fishermen also steal or destroy the nets of Korean fishermen. Since 2010, 1,980 Chinese vessels have been busted for entering Korean waters to illegally fish. They are turning increasingly violent, and 50 members of our Coast Guard have died during raids and fights with Chinese fishermen.

But patrols eased after the April 16 Sewol ferry sinking. The order to disband the Coast Guard due to its negligence and botched rescue missions during the maritime calamity has only led to more illegal fishing by the Chinese. However, confiscation of vessels has dropped because Coast Guard resources were focused on the lengthy search for missing bodies from the ferry sinking. The Coast Guard caught 487 Chinese ships illegally fishing last year, but that number dropped to 122 as of September this year.

In July 2012 a Russian warship fired at two Chinese fishing vessels illegally fishing in its exclusive waters. Other countries also react strongly to violations of their waters. Vietnam mobilized a warship in July 2011 in response to a Chinese vessel. The Philippines navy also clashed with Chinese fishing vessel in 2011.

Our government officially dismantled the Coast Guard to put maritime security under the newly established Ministry of Public Safety and Security and handed investigating powers over to the police. Park In-yong, a former deputy chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and an expert in naval operations, was chosen to head the new ministry. His deputy Lee Sung-ho is known for spearheading the operation by the Korean Navy against Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden in 2011.

They have been charged with protecting the public safety of our people. They must also pay heed to the protection of our sea frontiers. Regardless of the government’s reshuffle of the Coast Guard, we must protect our own waters.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 20, Page 34
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