South Korean officials have reported a confrontation between their national coast guard and a flotilla of “reinforced” Chinese fishing vessels believed to be poaching fish from South Korea’s exclusive economic zone. The incident only ended after the South Korean boats fired 249 rounds of automatic and small arms fire in the vicinity of the Chinese boats.

A fleet of more than forty Chinese fishing ships crossed into South Korean waters near the nation’s southwest coast, where they were initially intercepted and ordered to leave. These sorts of interactions are not uncommon; the South Korean Coast Guard regularly has to run Chinese poachers out of their waters. These particular Chinese fishing boats were prepared for a confrontation with South Korean authorities however; as they had been fortified with iron bars and steel mesh.

The flotilla of Chinese fishing ships rushed and surrounded a South Korean patrol boat issuing orders over the radio to steer clear of the South Korean ships and vacate the area. When it became apparent that the Chinese ships intended to ram the smaller patrol boat, the Coast Guard began firing what they characterized as “warning shots” across the bows of the Chinese vessels. In all, some 180 rounds from an M-60 machine gun and nearly 70 more from assault rifles and even shotguns were fired at the Chinese boats before they began to disburse.

“The Chinese fishing boats sought to swarm around and collide with our patrol ship, ignoring the broadcast warnings,” South Korea claimed in an officials statement.

China, who has been actively working to position themselves as a diplomatic leader in the region through public statements, while simultaneously expanding and reorganizing their military in order to establish a more dominant presence, issued a statement in keeping with what has become their traditional rhetoric. They called on South Korean officials to exercise restraint when dealing with the aggressive behavior of their illegal fishing ships. They also refused to acknowledge any Chinese responsibility or wrong-doing.

“China has always attached great importance to the management of overseas fisheries and have actively taken effective measures in relevant waters to maintain fishery production order,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.

“We hope the South Korean side will handle the relevant issue properly, avoid taking excessive actions that could jeopardize lives during law enforcement, earnestly ensure the safety and legitimate rights of Chinese fishermen, and strengthen communication with the Chinese side.”

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South Korea responded by defending their use of firearms in order to ensure the safety of the crew of the surrounded patrol boat, referring to it as a “legitimate step” against China’s “mass violation of the country’s waters for illegal fishing.”

This incident is not the first time such a confrontation has turned violent.  Last September, three Chinese fishermen were killed in a fire started by a South Korean flash grenade as the Coast Guard boarded their vessel for poaching.  A month after that incident, two Chinese fishing boats intentionally collided with and sank a South Korean Coast Guard vessel within South Korean waters.

 

Image courtesy of the Associated Press