Stern Punishment Needed Over Death of Coast Guard
Chinese fishermen's illegal fishing in South Korea's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) has reached a critical point which threatens the lives of those who patrol the area. It is sad to hear that a local coast guard was found dead in the sea off the southwestern port city of Mokpo last Friday after a clash with Chinese fishermen. The victim was a 48-year-old cost guard service member, Park Gyeong-jo.
According to the Mokpo Coast Guard, Park went missing Thursday night while trying to capture a 17-ton boat with a Chinese crew of 11 who were fishing illegally in the EEZ. The guard said the Chinese fishermen wielded steel pipes and shovels in attacking Park, resulting in him plunging into the water. Video footage shows a Chinese crewmember using a shovel to hit Park on the head.
On Sunday, the regional coast guard detained 11 Chinese fishermen on suspicion of causing Park's death. They are also suspected of injuring six other patrolmen. The fishermen were illegally trying to catch yellow corvina along with another boat after intruding into the EEZ. The two vessels were allegedly blocking the coast guard's patrol boat in a bid to avoid capture.
Park's death is calling people's attention to rampant illegal fishing by Chinese vessels in the nation's southwestern waters. Law enforcement agencies must take stern legal action against the suspects. Additionally, the Korean government should take diplomatic steps to hold Beijing responsible and prevent recurrence.
It is also urgent for the coast guard to develop more sophisticated methods to effectively crack down on illegal fishing, while ensuring the safety of its service members. In fact, the coast guard lacks the manpower and equipment needed to cope with the soaring number of Chinese boats fishing illegally. Since a bilateral fishing agreement with China took effect in June 2001, South Korea has captured more than 3,000 Chinese fishing vessels violating the EEZ.
In May 2005, four coast guards sustained injuries from steel-pipe wielding Chinese fishermen in the west sea near Baengnyeong Island, off the port city of Incheon. And in one case, the Chinese crew of a boat held five Korean patrolmen for about two hours. More serious is that not a few Chinese fishermen were found to have engaged in the smuggling of goods and migrant workers into Korea. Last year alone, 166 Chinese were arrested for trying to illegally enter the country via Chinese fishing vessels.
There is little doubt that the Beijing government is responsible for its inaction to prevent Chinese fishing vessels from illegally operating in Korea's EEZ. It's time for China to take appropriate measures regarding this issue before it is too late.