South Korea and the United Nations command on Friday deployed a team of military and police officials in neutral waters around the Han River estuary to clamp down on illegal fishing by Chinese boats, the Defense Ministry said.
It is the first time since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice that the authorities of either Koreas have entered the river mouth for a military operation.
The area extended from the Military Demarcation Line to the Northern Limit Line — effectively the land and maritime borders between the Koreas — is considered neutral waters. Any military or civil ships wishing to enter the area must be registered with the military armistice commissions of either South or North Korea, according to the armistice agreement.
According to the ministry, a military police team of no more than 24 people and four speed boats will be deployed in the area to deter boats conducting illegal fishing. Officials say there have been 520 cases of illegal fishing as of May in this year alone.
The Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries announced earlier in the day that the country’s crab catch as of April plunged 68.5 percent on-year to 664 tons. Local fishermen has claimed that this was largely due to sharp increase in illegal fishing.
“The South Korean government has consistently pursued diplomatic efforts to curb illegal fishing. … But the continuous illegal fishing made us realize the limits of diplomatic efforts,” said a government official.
Officials said their first operation on Friday was able to successfully drive away 10 Chinese fishing boats, which receded to the North side after the military police issued a warning. The team is slated to resume the operation on Saturday.
The team consists of military and coast guard personnel, along with translators and members of the UNC commission.
The U.N. command has notified China and North Korea on Wednesday of such operations. Officials said it was particularly important to notify the North to prevent accidental military conflicts, in light of the South Korean military personnel operating in waters that had not been entered for more than half a century.
The South Korean military said the North‘s military did not show any significant reaction while the operation was carried out.
UNC Commander Gen. Vincent Brooks approved the operation on Thursday, saying “United Nations Command takes its responsibility to maintain the Armistice very seriously. We had a responsibility to act and we are doing that.”
By Yoon Min-sik