S. Korea to use special forces in fisheries crackdown

SEOUL, December 26, 2011 (AFP) - South Korea will use armed military special forces to spearhead its battle against illegal fishing, officials announced Monday following the murder of a coastguard officer by a Chinese boat captain.

The coastguard was stabbed to death and a second wounded on December 12 after they boarded a boat in the Yellow Sea's rich fishing grounds.

The second death of a coastguard at the hands of Chinese fishermen in less than four years sparked widespread anger. Seoul urged Beijing to crack down harder on illegal fishing and lawmakers sought tougher punishment of violators.

The prime minister's office announced plans to spend 932.4 billion won ($811 million) between 2012-15 on better equipping its forces as part of a crackdown on poaching.

"Firearms that were provided to only two out of the eight crew on a high-speed vessel were given to everyone last Wednesday," said Lim Jong-Ryong, the head of the office.

Lim said guidelines would be simplified so that officers can use firearms whenever their lives are threatened.

Military special forces will be recruited to serve on Special Sea Attack Teams and 191 new officers would supplement the 342 men currently on the teams.

The office said up to 3,000 Chinese boats fished daily in South Korea's exclusive economic zone from April to May and October to December this year.

Some 475 boats were seized so far this year compared with 370 in the whole of last year.

When stopped, the crews often fight back with metal pipes and knives or lash their boats together to deter boarders.

The South's 18 high-speed ships patrolling the Yellow Sea will be replaced by faster vessels. The number of larger ships will be increased from 18 to 27.

Chinese crews seen as major offenders will in future have their catches and fishing equipment confiscated, in addition to being fined.

The maximum fine will be doubled to 200 million won ($174,000), and a repeat offender will face an even larger penalty.

In October the coastguard said it used tear gas and rubber bullets to subdue Chinese fishermen wielding clubs and shovels. Some 21 Chinese were detained but later released after paying a fine.

In December 2010 a Chinese boat overturned and sank in the Yellow Sea after ramming a South Korean coastguard vessel. Two Chinese crewmen were killed.

Three Chinese detained after that incident were freed following protests from Beijing.

In September 2008 a South Korean officer drowned while trying to inspect a Chinese boat.

The Chinese skipper accused of the latest killing has reportedly admitted the offence and expressed regret.