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Coast Guard Found Dead After Fishing Boat Scuffle

Posted September. 27, 2008 01:08,   


A Korean Coast Guard officer who tried to board a Chinese boat illegally fishing in Korea’s exclusive economic zone was thrown into the ocean and drowned yesterday after the Chinese crew resisted.

The Mokpo Coast Guard around 1:10 p.m. Friday found the body of Park Gyeong-jo, 48, a sergeant who had gone missing the previous day near Gageo Island off the coast of Shinan, South Jeolla Province.

In Korea, seizing illegally operating Chinese ships is like waging war. The Coast Guard often has to chase Chinese vessels in high waves or engage in a life-or-death battle against fishermen brandishing deadly weapons.

The following account is from the Mokpo Coast Guard’s investigation report.

▽ Pushed into the water by resisting fishermen

At 7 p.m. Thursday, a patrol vessel of the Mokpo Coast Guard detected two unidentified 50-ton Chinese fishing ships on its radar 70 kilometers west of Gageo Island within Korea’s exclusive economic zone.

Captain Kim Do-su looked through a telescope at the two Chinese ships, which hid their vessels’ names. He dispatched 17 officers to capture the vessels.

The Mokpo Coast Guard then ordered the Chinese ships to turn off their engines, as both vessels were only 300 meters away from the patrol ship. One of the fishing ships fled back toward China, but Korean officers in speedboats blocked the other ship’s way.

As three officers including Park tried to get onboard the captured fishing ship, some 10 Chinese fishermen resisted with iron pipes and shovels and also threw empty bottles and fishing gear.

The three officers used gas guns and clubs against the fishermen, but were all pushed by them. Park fell in the sea while the other two officers fell on the boat.

While maritime police searched for Park, the Chinese ship escaped. At 1:10 p.m. Friday, or 18 hours after he went missing, Park was found dead in a lifejacket six kilometers south from the scene of the scuffle.

Park began his law enforcement career in 1990 and had worked on patrol ships and for Mokpo police. He had served as the patrol ship’s weapons manager since March this year.

Around 10 p.m. Thursday, the Coast Guard captured the second Chinese vessel that fled to China with 11 sailors on board 200 kilometers west from the island of Hongdo.

“Though no external problem was found in the initial autopsy, we cannot rule out that his death was caused by a weapon. So we will conduct a full autopsy Saturday,” said a Coast Guard official.

▽ Deadly battles with Chinese fishermen

Three years ago, four Korean Coast Guard officers were seriously wounded after being beaten with iron pipes by Chinese sailors whose ship was about to be seized for illegal operations within Korean waters.

On May 24, the Incheon Coast Guard attempted to seize two Chinese ships that crossed into Korean waters to illegally fish 43 kilometers west of Baekryeong Island.

Twelve Korean officers approached the Chinese ships in two speedboats. Six of them boarded one of the ships and subdued the crew, but the remaining six faced strong resistance from 18 Chinese fishermen wielding iron pipes.

During the clash, a Korean sergeant was hit by an iron pipe and collapsed. Chinese fishermen threw him into the ocean and the rest of the Korean officers jumped in the water to rescue him. The two Chinese vessels fled but were later captured.

Members of the Korean Coast Guard risk their lives in cracking down on Chinese boats illegally fishing in Korean waters. Though Chinese ships no longer “sweep” fish, some unlicensed ships still illegally catch fish secretly at night, when supervision is more difficult.

Chinese fishermen fiercely resist arrest to avoid tens of millions of won in fines if caught fishing without permission.

“We go on patrol with gas guns, clubs and electric shock devices, but it’s very difficult to subdue them in the ocean,” said a Mokpo Coast Guard officer. “It’s frightening when they put up a life-or-death fight. I felt my life threatened many times.”

This year alone, 159 Chinese ships have been captured for illegal operations. Though a record-high 584 Chinese ships were captured in 2005, the number has since fallen, dropping to 494 last year.