Some 300 Chinese fishing boats a day have been violating the Northern Limit Line, the de facto maritime border between the two Koreas in the West Sea, during the fishing season between May and October, according to the Incheon Coast Guard.
But the coast guard only stopped 101 of them in 2007, 64 in 2008, 61 in 2009, and only four this year -- a mere 230 in total. That means Chinese trawlers violate South Korean waters more or less with impunity.
The coast guard and Navy try to stop Chinese boats by sending inflatable boats and patrol boats to the waters every day, but they are wise to these moves and only cross in to South Korean waters for a couple of hours at night, the Coast Guard said.
It is especially difficult to nab them when they operate in waters off Yeonpyeong Island, only about 3 km from the NLL, as they bide their time on the North Korean side and then sneak across under cover of darkness and are gone.
Five coast guard commandos stationed on the island for eight years are tasked with chasing the Chinese trawlers with radar and inflatables, but they are understaffed and underequipped.
"It would be difficult to crack down on all these boats even if we sent 1,000 patrol boats to those waters," a Coast Guard officer said. He said the onus is essentially on North Korea to prevent the trawlers from crossing in the first place.