INCHEON, Oct. 11 (Korea Bizwire) – Last Friday, a 4.5-ton speedboat of the South Korean Coast Guard sank after being rammed by one of some 40 Chinese fishing boats that were illegally fishing off the coast of Socheong Island, Incheon.
Although no causalities resulted from the incident, there is concern that Korea’s lax approach towards Chinese illegal fishing that has grown rampant in recent years is in fact encouraging illicit activities.
Failing to practice stronger measures, however, is not from the Coast Guard lacking suitable weaponry.
Each of its 1,500-ton and heavier vessels are fitted with 20mm (M61 Vulcan), and 40mm rotary cannons that are capable of sinking enemy vessels if circumstances allowed. Nine of the officers assigned to each speedboat are equipped with loaded K-5 semi-automatic pistols, in addition to various non-lethal weapons, including tear gas, 40mm sponge grenades, and 20mm rubber bullets.
Coast Guard officers have also started wearing stab proof vests that can float on water, after several reported knife attacks by Chinese fishermen.
Yet, it is extremely rare that firearms are used to defend against illegal fishing activities, as was the case in the October 7 incident, where the Coast Guard decided on a “retreat” instead of a hardline strategy upon a clear assault by the Chinese boats.
According to the Coast Guard’s guidelines on the use of firearms, they are open to use their weapons “if a sailor attacks using dangerous objects, in group assaults involving at least two sailors, or under any other circumstances that may threaten lives or inhibit physical defense.”
However, the lack of resolution and field experience in the Coast Guard’s higher command group, on top of their fears that the active use of firearms could trigger unfavorable political relations are discouraging the use of stronger defensive measures.
“It is onerous using firearms on shaky boats, but if we were given clear rules of engagement (which we lack) we would have no choice but to follow orders,” said a Coast Guard official who took part in operations against Chinese fishing vessels. “There’s even a saying ‘even Robocop would get his butt kicked if he didn’t respond to assault.’”
Meanwhile, the government has expressed frustration after summoning China’s consul general on Sunday, and Ambassador Qiu Guohong on Monday, demanding that Chinese officials take measures to prevent these types of incidents from reoccurring.
However, China’s foreign ministry urged South Korea to take a “cool-headed” approach in conducting its investigation into the incident, suggesting that it does not want it to hurt bilateral diplomatic relations.
By Joseph Shin (firstname.lastname@example.org)