September 30, 2008

South Korean Coast Guard Officers Beaten, Held Captive By Chinese Crew

Text of report in English by South Korean news agency Yonhap

Mokpo, South Korea, Sept. 30 (Yonhap) - Four South Korean Coast Guard officers had been captured and assaulted by Chinese fisherman just two days before another one was killed during a boarding operation, authorities here said Tuesday.

The Mokpo Coast Guard confirmed that the four officers were captured and severely beaten by the crew of a Chinese boat that was suspected of fishing in South Korea's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) without a permit.

The incident took place on Tuesday afternoon, when a speedboat carrying 10 officers and a translator left the 3,000-ton cutter to check a suspicious fishing vessel near Gageo Island in the Yellow Sea [West Sea], it said.

Four of the 10 officers, including assistant inspector Lee Young- chul, had boarded the vessel and started inspecting papers and the hold when the crew disregarded orders and sailed away from the cutter. Soon the boat was joined by a large fish cargo ship and 50 other Chinese boats in the vicinity.

About 20 crewmembers from the cargo ship, armed with steel pipes, quickly took control of the fishing vessel being inspected, beating the officers who remained in captivity for about an hour before the Koreans returned the captain of the Chinese fishing boat, who had been taken to the Coast Guard cutter via speedboat.

After the "hostage exchange" took place, the Chinese boats fled the scene, and with the help of another patrol vessel, the cutter evacuated two of the more seriously hurt officers. Both were subsequently hospitalized at a Mokpo hospital.

Frontline officers, meanwhile, expressed frustration that because they were not issued firearms, there was little they could do if the crew started disobeying orders and turned violent. Boarding parties are only given gas or electric stun guns. The cutter is armed with a 20mm rotary cannon and machine guns, but the use of weapons against fishing boats is restricted since it could trigger diplomatic complications.

They also hinted that it may be because of the first incident that the regional Coast Guard started to clamp down harder on illegal fishing, leading to the high-profile death of Inspector Park Kyong-jo during a boarding attempt on Thursday.

Park was killed when Chinese crewmembers struck his head with a shovel, and he fell overboard. Six other officers were injured in the operation that took place 73 kilometres west of Gageo. The fishermen responsible for Park's death have all been arrested, with China's top envoy expressing regret over the incident on Monday.

Seoul said that since the bilateral fisheries treaty took effect in 2001, about 3,000 Chinese boats have been captured fishing in South Korea's EEZ.

It added that in the last six years, 27 Coast Guard officers have been hurt and one killed in the line of duty while trying to stop illegal fishing.

Related to the unreported incident involving the four officers, the regional Coast Guard office said it started an investigation that could lead to administrative actions being taken against the cutter's captain.

They said that the captain may have covered up the incident, fearing a reprimand for allowing his men to be captured and for releasing the boats involved in the violent action.

Originally published by Yonhap news agency, Seoul, in English 1301 30 Sep 08.

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