July 2, 2006

South Korea starts sea survey near disputed isles

SEOUL (Reuters) - A South Korean ship has left port to
conduct a maritime survey near islands at the center of a
long-simmering territorial dispute with Japan, a South Korean
official said on Monday.

South Korea and Japan came close to a high-seas showdown in
April when Tokyo said it planned a survey in waters near the
desolate outcrop of islands, called Tokto in Korean and
Takeshima in Japanese, before the two cooled tension through

The islands sit in rich fishing grounds, and Seoul's state
gas firm says they lie above unexploited gas hydrate deposits
potentially worth billions of dollars.

The South Korean ship with about 20 aboard left port on
Sunday night and is scheduled to conduct its survey through
mid-July, taking it near the islands located about the same
distance from the mainland of South Korea and Japan.

Tokyo has already objected, and Japanese media quoted an
unnamed Foreign Ministry official as saying Tokyo may now go
ahead with its own maritime survey.

"It is the basic right and prerogative of this country to
conduct any scientific research within our exclusive economic
zone area," a South Korean government official said.

South Korea maintains a police presence on the islands and
effectively controls them.

Japan called on South Korea to cancel the survey.

"We would like to call upon South Korea again to be prudent
enough to exercise self-control," Tokyo's top government
spokesman told reporters on Monday.

"If South Korea goes ahead with the survey as planned, we
will deal with it appropriately under the United Nations
Convention on the Law of the Sea and domestic laws," Chief
Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said.

In a separate incident on Sunday, Japan's Coast Guard said
it had detected a Chinese vessel apparently conducting a marine
survey around the Senkaku islands, which are known as the
Diaoyu islands in China and are claimed by both Tokyo and

Japan's Foreign Ministry complained to the Chinese Embassy
in Tokyo over the incident.

"It is not acceptable to carry out a survey within our
exclusive economic zone without prior notification," Abe told
reporters on Monday.