South Korean officer killed in clash with Chinese fishermen
REPORTING FROM SEOUL –- A South Korean coast guard officer was stabbed to death and a colleague was injured Monday in a scuffle that took place after the officers boarded a Chinese trawler suspected of illegal fishing, authorities said.
The 41-year-old South Korean officer was conducting a search of the steering room about 7 a.m. Monday when he was fatally stabbed in the side with a piece of glass yielded by the vessel’s Chinese captain, authorities said.
The critically wounded officer was flown to a nearby hospital with another officer who suffered less-serious undisclosed stomach injuries.
South Korean coast guard officials said they set out to seize two Chinese vessels fishing about 55 miles off the coast and managed to take control of one of the boats.
During the subsequent search, the second fishing boat rammed the seized vessel, prompting nine Chinese fishermen on board to attack the officers. The boarded vessel was seized, along with nine crewmen.
The incident marked the second time that a South Korean coast guard officer has died since 2008 as Seoul has taken a harsher stand in what it calls irresponsible Chinese fishing in the Yellow Sea between the two nations.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Seoul on Monday summoned the Chinese ambassador to explain the incident. South Korean officials told reporters they were asking for Chinese cooperation and said they hoped the death would not worsen relationships between the two nations.
South Korean press reported that the Chinese ambassador said “the Chinese government has been continually educating the fishermen,” to no avail.
South Korean officials said the boarding was made to send a message to Chinese captains about increased illegal fishing off South Korean waters. So far this year, 475 Chinese-run boats have been seized, compared with 370 for all of 2010.
In one boarding this year, South Korean coast guard officials used tear gas and rubber bullets to subdue Chinese fishermen wielding clubs and shovels. In all, 21 Chinese were arrested but later released after paying fines.
In another case, a Chinese fishing vessel overturned after ramming a South Korean coast guard vessel. Two fishermen were killed in the incident.
South Korean military experts on Monday called for China to better control and monitor the actions of its commercial fishing fleets.
“There needs to be a strict crackdown by the Chinese,” said Moon Hong-sik, a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Strategy in Seoul. “It’s very hard to police all the illegal fishing."
Beijing did not immediately comment publicly on the incident.
A story in a Chinese weekly newspaper recently quoted fishermen saying they often became confused over the maritime boundaries. Chinese fishermen have wandered into foreign waters after depleting the catch within their own jurisdiction, the newspaper said.
-- John M. Glionna
Photo: An unidentified Chinese fishing boat captain, center, is led by South Korean police officers to the coast guard office in Incheon on Monday, Dec. 12, 2011. Credit: Ha Sa-hun / Associated Press