KONFRONTASI - A North Korean fishing boat collided Monday with a patrol vessel of Japan’s Fisheries Agency and sank in the Sea of Japan area called Yamatotai known for a good fishing grounds where rampant illegal fishing, apparently by North Korean boats, has been observed.
The incident triggered calls for a review of the current Japanese countermeasures against poaching and for strengthening a crackdown, instead of merely asking poachers to leave and driving them out of Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Sudden turn and approach
“North Korean fishing boats sometimes try to break through. A collision like this could have happened at any time,” a government related source said.
At about 9 a.m. on Monday, the Fisheries Agency patrol vessel Okuni spotted a North Korean fishing boat sailing through Yamatotai and sent an audio message warning it to leave. Then, the fishing boat suddenly turned and approached and collided with the bow of the patrol vessel. The crew used the patrol ship’s rescue raft before boarding another ship nearby and left.
Yamatotai is located on a boundary between cold and warm currents where nutrient-rich waters rise up to near the surface, making it a rich fishing grounds for Japanese flying squid and shrimp.
Unauthorized fishing in Japan’s EEZ is prohibited by the Law on the Exercise of the Sovereign Right for Fishery, etc. in the Exclusive Economic Zone, whereby patrol boats of the Fisheries Agency and the Japan Coast Guard can conduct on-site inspections of suspicious boats, or seize them if necessary. However, there has been no case in which a North Korean fishing boat near Yamatotai has ever been detained for violating the law.
Behind the fishing boats’ aggressive action are Japan’s measures aimed at “driving fishing boats away from its EEZ.”
The Fisheries Agency’s patrol vessels usually check fishing quotas and catch methods and are not armed with heavy weapons. Therefore, it is JCG patrol vessels that respond to dangerous signs, such as fishing boats equipped with weapons.
However, patrol boats need to take a fishing boat’s crew to land in order to fully deal with illegal fishing, which would mean the patrol boats have to leave the sea area.
“Such an action could weaken monitoring at sea, leaving illegal operations unchecked,” a senior JCG official said.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stressed that Japan would “respond in a resolute manner” at the House of Representatives’ plenary session on Monday. However, there are persistent concerns within the government that the issue could develop into a diplomatic problem.
“It’s a difficult issue to cope with, because North Korea may harden or sharpen its attitude if we captured its fishing boats,” a government related source admitted.
Since mid-September, the Russian Federal Security Service has reportedly detained more than 500 North Korean squid fishermen and others who were poaching in Russia’s EEZ in the Sea of Japan. As they try to avoid facing Russia’s strict measures, the number of illegal fishing boats choosing the relatively “safer ground” of Japan’s EEZ can increase.(Jft/TheJapanNews)