No tolerance for illegal fishing

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No tolerance for illegal fishing

The South Korean government has decided to allow the Korea Coast Guard to use force against violent fishing intruders from China. The action follows the sinking of a Coast Guard patrol vessel in the Korean part of the Yellow Sea last week by two Chinese fishing boats that were fishing illegally in Korean waters. But whether the actions will be actually followed up remains questionable, as Seoul has threatened to do so before.

The government, in a cabinet meeting, authorized patrol ships to fire at Chinese fishing boats that act violently against Korean Coast Guard or interfere with its public service. They also will be allowed to ram Chinese vessels, if necessary. It is the first time the government allowed the use of firearms in dealing with fishing intruders. But strong actions are necessary as the fleet of Chinese vessels continue to undermine and threaten security guards and our maritime sovereignty and assets.

The question is whether the actions can actually be administered. The government formed a senior inter-government channel with Beijing and authorized the use of arms when two coast guards died while seizing an illegal Chinese fishing boat in 2011. But it remained passive in actually using force in fear of diplomatic friction. The government therefore should reinforce the Coast Guard organization as well as diplomatic actions to rein in illegal Chinese fishing.

The Coast Guard has fallen under the Ministry of Public Safety and Security since President Park Geun-hye announced she would dismantle the organization as punishment for its failure in the rescue operation for the Sewol ferry, which sunk in April 2014. After it went from an independent organization to a department in a ministry, the Coast Guard lost rights in investigation, budgeting and appointments. Its budget for raids and combat dwindled to 1.2 billion won ($10 million) this year from 4.8 billion won in 2012. Morale has hit the floor. Our Coast Guard must be revived as an independent organization to act properly as both the police and fire-fighting forces at sea.

The government also must rethink its laid-back attitude toward Chinese illegal fishing activities. The ministry released a statement on the sinking of a Coast Guard vessel 31 hours after the incident. The ministry said it took time to complete its investigation so as to avoid diplomatic friction with China. We should stop tolerating the Chinese theft of our maritime resources.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct.13, Page 34
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