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(LEAD) S. Korea vows to use force against violent Chinese boats if needed

All Headlines 16:19 October 11, 2016

(ATTN: RECASTS slug, headline, dateline, lead, throughout based on gov't announcement)

SEOUL/INCHEON, Oct. 11 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's Coast Guard said Tuesday it will deal sternly with Chinese fishing boats operating illegally in the country's waters and will use firearms if necessary.

The decision follows an emergency meeting of relevant agencies earlier in the day at the government complex in Seoul where policymakers agreed to roll out strengthened crackdown measures to cope with the illegal activities.

The plan includes the active use of force and firearms, including cannons, crew-served weapons and small arms, against boats and sailors that violently interfere with the authorities' execution of their duties.

Though the use of such firearms has a legal basis under the law, the local law enforcement authorities have been hesitant to use even pistols in the past.

The Coast Guard also said it will chase after those boats that are fishing without permission in the country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and, if it is deemed difficult to stop such vessels, order its ships to ram them so the crew can be arrested. It will seek cooperation with its Chinese counterparts that still get away so the offenders are charged.

The Coast Guard then outlined a plan to expand the number of its patrol vessels in the long term and hold a joint crackdown along with the Navy and other relevant government agencies later this month if Chinese vessels again embark on illegal fishing.

The announcement came a few days after a 4.5-ton Coast Guard speedboat was sunk Friday during an operation against illegal fishing in the Yellow Sea as a 100-ton Chinese boat intentionally rear-ended it.

During the incident, the Coast Guard officers fired off their weapons into the air to ward off other Chinese boats that were approaching to join the fray.

No one was hurt, but experts say the incident showed the blatant disregard for the local law that Chinese fishermen exhibit when operating here.

The Chinese boats that attacked South Korea's authorities are currently on the wanted list in collaboration with the Chinese authorities.

The government said it will work closely with the neighboring country to extradite the suspects when arrested, and if not possible, hand over all necessary evidence so that they can be punished accordingly.

If the suspects are caught here, they can be charged with attempted murder, it added.

There have been growing calls to toughen control over the Chinese boats poaching in South Korean waters as they have recently become more violent and organized.

The number of Chinese vessels that emerged near South Korea's northern sea border area, called Northern Limit Line (NLL), or the EEZ in the Yellow Sea increased from 53,359 in 2012 to 95,064 in 2014 and reached over the 100,000 mark last year, according to the Coast Guard. This year's tally was 50,022 as of September but is likely to increase during the winter season.

Still, the seizure rate stood at 0.11 percent in 2012, with only 63 vessels having been caught, data showed. It was 0.04 percent in both 2014 and 2015.

A number of Chinese fishing boats that were caught while operating illegally in Korea's exclusive zone are moored at a port in Incheon, west of Seoul, on Oct. 10, 2016. The growing seriousness of the problem from such illegal activities was reinforced on Oct. 7 when a Chinese boat intentionally collided and sank a South Korean Coast Guard vessel that was trying to stop illegal fishing. (Yonhap)

scaaet@yna.co.kr
(END)

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