South Korea fires 249 warning shots over Chinese fishing boats, coastguard says
Action taken after 44 vessels fortified with iron bars and steel mesh ‘swarmed around’ patrol boat, statement says
South Korea’s coastguard said it fired 249 warning shots over a group of Chinese fishing boats “swarming around” one of its patrol ships in South Korean waters, prompting a call for restraint from Beijing.
Coastguard vessels regularly chase Chinese boats suspected of fishing illegally in South Korean waters, at times sparking violent confrontations, complicating a relationship that is central to efforts to try to rein in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes.
A fleet of 44 Chinese fishing boats fortified with iron bars and steel mesh on Tuesday began to rush the patrol boat which broadcast warnings to steer clear, the coastguard said in a statement.
The patrol vessel fired 249 shots over the fishing boats until they retreated.
“The Chinese fishing boats sought to swarm around and collide with our patrol ship, ignoring the broadcast warnings,” it said.
China, which has in the past lodged diplomatic protests with South Korea over the use of force by its coastguard, expressed “serious concern” about the reports.
“We hope that South Korea appropriately handles the relevant issue and in the course of law enforcement takes no extreme actions that endanger people’s safety,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in Beijing.
Seoul’s foreign ministry said the coastguard followed domestic law in its use of weapons in a “legitimate step” against the boats which made a “mass violation of the country’s waters for illegal fishing”.
In September last year, three Chinese fishermen were killed in a fire on their boat when a South Korean coastguard crew trying to apprehend them for illegal fishing threw flash grenades into a room where they were hiding, according to the South Korean coastguard.
A month later, two Chinese fishing boats illegally fishing in South Korean waters crashed into and sank a coastguard vessel, the coastguard officials said.