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Posted : 2013-11-06 16:55
Updated : 2013-11-06 16:55

Myths and facts

The Ieodo Ocean Research Station, a platform atop Ieodo, a submerged rock 149 kilometers southwest of Korea's southernmost island, Marado. Korea constructed the facility in 2003 to measure sea currents and meteorological phenomena around Ieodo. / Courtesy of the Society of Ieodo Research


By Nam Hyun-woo

"Once upon a time, a man named Godongji lived on Jeju Island. On his way to visit China, his ship was swamped by huge waves and drifted to a mysterious island named Ieodo, which was not on the map. Only widows lived there, because all their husbands went missing during a fishing trip. Godongji met a beautiful widow there and succeeded in bringing her back to his home."

This is part of an old myth, "The Story of Godongji" told on Jeju Island. Like this story, many similar Ieodo-related myths, legends and folksongs have been passed down through the centuries.

Unlike its current status of being at the center of a maritime conflict between Korea and China, Ieodo, a submerged rock sitting in waters some 150 kilometers from Korea's southernmost island Marado, has been a subject of myths for many Koreans.

In Korean folklore ― as described in the Godongji story ― Ieodo is a haven where Jeju fishermen who could not return home due to stormy seas could live forever. This illusion came partially from the underwater rock's geographical characteristics.

Since "do" means island in Korean, many of the country's people misunderstand the rock to be a place that could sustain human life. But Ieodo is submerged some 5 meters below sea level, revealing itself only in a windy and stormy weather which makes waves sink below 10 meters.

Being invisible in peaceful seas but showing itself in stormy ones might have been a wonder for people in those days, making them believe missing fishermen live on Ieodo forever, and dream about finding sanctuary for missing family members, said Choi Yearn-hong of the Society of Ieodo Research.

These stories could be significant evidence that the submerged rock is Korean sovereignty, something China disputes.

As part of strengthening its naval power, China claims sovereignty over Ieodo and the surrounding waters. In August, a Chinese vessel violated Korean territory there, following a similar breach in March.

In July, The China's People's Daily reported that its government would conduct inspections on some 10,000 islands regarding their sustainability for human habitation over the next five years. Though the newspaper did not mention Ieodo, critics said the it is highly likely that the rock is among them.

Korea's Minister of Oceans and Fisheries Yoon Jin-sook told reporters in May that the ministry will consider measures to transform the rock into an island that can sustain human habitation.

Though the remark sounded implausible and is expected to remain as just, the government is also shoring up measures to defend its jurisdiction over Ieodo.

Experts say what is the most powerful and unchangeable evidence that Ieodo is in Korea's jurisdiction is that it lies closer to Korea. The nearest Chinese island Sheshandao is located 297 kilometers west of it.

The record of first exploration is another supporting ground for Korea's sovereignty on the rock. In 1951, the Navy discovered the rock after a series of shipwrecks.

Also, having a research station on Ieodo backs Korea's sovereignty. Seoul built the Ieodo Ocean Research Station a decade ago to collect data on sea currents and meteorological phenomena.



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