Maritime police on Wednesday captured 12 Chinese trawlers that were fishing illegally in Korea's exclusive economic zone 126 km off the coast of Buan, South Jeolla Province. The Chinese fishermen tied their vessels together with rope and resisted arrest by wielding bamboo sticks, but 20 special forces officers were able to overpower them.
So far maritime police only used water cannon to drive Chinese fishermen out of Korea's EEZ. The latest operation marks the first instance where they used stronger measures. The arrests were possible because maritime police had bolstered the number of officers and equipment as part of increasing efforts to crack down on illegal Chinese fishing.
A total of 12 patrol ships, including two 3,000-ton vessels, four helicopters and 20 special police officers were mobilized this time, but on a daily basis that would be impossible. It costs W8 million (US$1=W1,131) to fuel just one 3,000-ton patrol ship for a one-day operation, and the ships have other duties to perform as well, such as rescue and disaster relief operations.
This year, 1,762 Chinese trawlers have been authorized to operate inside Korea's EEZ and haul up to 65,000 tons of fish. But around 200,000 Chinese fishing boats are believed to be operating illegally there. The only way to stop them is to take firm measures and impose tough penalties. Their catch must be seized and the amount of bail raised significantly even if that requires the revision of relevant laws. Under current laws, authorities are allowed to seize fish illegally caught in Korea's territorial waters, but not fish caught in the EEZ and the fishermen must be returned home after paying a security deposit, which is a measly W1 million for vessels less than 50 tons. Since they can make a lot more money selling the illegally caught fish, they readily pay up.
And if Chinese fishermen use violence against Korean maritime police, they must be arrested and charged for their crimes. Since 2007, one maritime police officer has been killed and 27 have been injured while cracking down on illegal Chinese fishermen. But the government continues to stick to its policy of keeping arrests to a minimum. Until October this year, 294 Chinese fishing boats were seized and 2,905 fishermen captured for illegally operating inside Korea's EEZ. But only 49 were arrested and charged. This meekness is the reason why China's Foreign Ministry had the nerve to imply that these wholly justified arrests are "barbaric."