A fishy caseA North Korean fishing boat’s stealthy docking in Samcheok Harbor, Gangwon last month revealed a serious loophole in our national security system. The incident has laid bare a slew of problems ranging from inadequate maritime surveillance, a lax sense of security and an attempt to cover up the unrestricted penetration of the vessel into our waters. That’s what a joint investigation team found after probing the case.
The problems did not end with the frontline sailors and soldiers of the Navy, Army and Coast Guard. Mistakes continued to percolate up through the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Ministry of National Defense and the Security Office of the Blue House. The military and government tried to shrug the incident off as just an accident. The public eventually was outraged over the government’s unreliable explanations. The government belatedly announced the results of its investigation of the case, yet many suspicions remain.
First of all is the issue of slack military alertness. Even as the 33-foot ship crisscrossed our waters in the East Sea for 57 hours from the evening of June 12, nobody knew it. Our Navy and Coast Guard vessels patrol the waters around the Northern Limit Line on a 24 hour basis, not to mention a maritime reconnaissance plane that regularly flies over those waters. The wooden boat sailed at a steady speed on its own engine. The military authorities clearly should have spotted it. And yet the joint investigation team put the blame on an expanded surveillance area due to an increasing number of North Korean ships around the maritime border.
More serious is our military’s reporting system up the chain of command. It turned out that the Army 23rd Division that covers the area, including Samcheok Harbor, was excluded from a list of organizations the Coast Guard should report to. An officer of the division did not report to his commanders even after receiving a report about the docking of the North Korean boat from the Coast Guard.
Yet the Joint Chiefs of Staff said there’s no problem with our surveillance. The military’s normal affirmation process leads up to the defense minister. Is he not accountable for the incident? The Security Office in the Blue House — the top end of the command chain — also has some clearing up to do. Suspicions quickly arose over the possibility of the presidential office getting involved in a cover-up.
The incident took place before U.S. President Donald Trump’s trip to Korea. We wonder if the Blue House tried to bury the news. It is time for a legislative probe of an extremely fishy case.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 4, Page 30