The death of Coast Guard commando Lee Cheong-ho during a crackdown on illegal Chinese fishing on Monday has increased calls in Korea to boost the number of large patrol ships and maritime police picked from former special forces units to deal with the increasingly brutal tactics of Chinese fishermen to avoid arrest.
Maritime police estimate between 1,000 to 2,000 Chinese trawlers are illegally fishing in Korean waters in the West Sea. The Coast Guard has 290 patrol ships, but only 29 weigh 1,000 tons or more, making them capable of cracking down on illegal Chinese trawlers. That is because vessels that size are equipped with two high-speed boats that can rapidly engage Chinese fishing boats. Each high-speed boat carries between eight to 10 Coast Guard commandos.
There are now calls to increase the number of large patrol boats by more than 50 percent. If Chinese trawlers form a flotilla, as they often do to avoid being brought to book, at least two large patrol ships need to mount a combined operation, maritime police say.
Also, only 10 to 20 percent of maritime police have been issued protective armor to shield them from the makeshift weapons wielded by Chinese fishermen.
There are 8,135 maritime police plus 1,600 combat police, and 3,000 have been stationed in Incheon, Gunsan and Mokpo along the west coast where illegal Chinese trawlers operate. But there are only 430 Coast Guard commandos. Maritime police say they need twice as many commandos from Army or Navy special forces, even though around 4,000 officers are operating on shifts to crack down on illegal Chinese fishermen.
Maritime police's rules-of-engagement manual authorizes the use of firearms in emergencies. But that never happens because it is difficult to take accurate shots on a rocking boat, while injuries or deaths could lead to problems. However, the death of the coast guard on Monday has raised calls among the public for more active use of firearms by maritime police to protect themselves.