Getting Medieval with the ROK Coast Guard

1 May

133583907836_20120502.JPG Anyone who thinks the Coast Guard is an easy job, should consider this day’s work:

Five of the officials, including Kim Jeong-su, 44, finally succeeded in boarding the Chinese vessel at around 2:30 am, carrying gas pistols and batons. The storage hold and deck were filled to capacity with fish. Kim and other officials tried to enter the wheelhouse and cut the wires before attempting to enter the wheelhouse. Its left door was locked, while the right one was guarded by a German shepherd. After a scuffle lasting about ten minutes, they succeeded in entering the pilothouse by breaking a window. The Chinese crewmembers and sailors put up a fight, throwing burning charcoal and stones.

Two crewmembers on deck attacked official Hwa Jeong-u, 32, with a sickle and axe before he managed to escape by diving into the water. Kim, who had been part of the effort to enter the wheelhouse, was left unconscious by blows to the head and body from blunt instruments wielded by Chinese crewmembers. The officials from the high-speed boat radioed a request for assistance. The transport boat continued traveling toward China for about 20 to 30 minutes, with Kim still on board.

It was only after an additional high-speed boat arrived at around 3 am that the Fisheries Management Group succeeded in removing Kim and the others from the boat and transported him and Hwa to a hospital in Mokpo by helicopter.

Both Hankyoreh and Joongang Daily blame South Korean politicians for failing to support the Coast Guard.

Even though Chinese trawlers’ illegal fishing and indiscriminate violence must be stopped at any cost, a more fundamental cause of the mishap is a dereliction of duty among our lawmakers and government. The ruling Saenuri Party proposed last year an amendment to the law that punishes illegal fishing by foreign vessels in Korea’s exclusive economic zone to effectively protect maritime sovereignty.

But the amendment is still sitting in the Legislation and Judiciary Committee due to a gridlock at the National Assembly. The revision, if enacted, would be more effective in curbing foreign vessels’ illegal fishing in our waters as it doubled the fines that can be applied. The bill, however, is doomed to be repealed if it fails to pass a plenary session by May 29, the official closing date of the 18th National Assembly. Lawmakers should pass the amendment before the deadline to put an end to the illegal fishing.

The government came up with various measures to stamp out this problem, including ways of increasing the number of patrol ships and manpower as well as improving equipment for effective suppression. But the Korean Coast Guard still uses primitive tools such as three-tiered clubs and tear gas guns, and no extra manpower was added.

Despite their collaboration with the Coast Guard, 210 agents and 15 patrol boats working under the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries are utterly insufficient to cover a vast area of 195,000 square meters (233,218 square yards) between Baekryeong Island to the north and Mara Island to the south. As such, Chinese fishermen make fun of the government’s authority and run amok in Korean waters. Local authorities must establish an effective system to control illegal Chinese fishing. The government received an apology from Chinese leader Hu Jintao in January for the tragic death of Sergeant Lee and a promise that Chinese vessels would no longer breach Korean waters. But the latest incident makes us suspicious of its effectiveness.

The “at any cost” bluster is worrying enough, but the paucity of ships and the medieval weaponry at least help to reduce violence by limiting retaliation. Increasing the effectiveness of lethal technology is no solution. Nor, is this xenophobic slurry. I would bet South Korean lawmakers’ intransigence is related to diplomatic concerns and venial bureaucratic politics. I’ve never known the Coast Guard in any country to be a lobbying powerhouse. The root of the problem lies in the legal morass that surrounds the term, exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

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