By Alex Jensen
SEOUL (AA) – South Korea and the United Nations Command (UNC) seized two Chinese vessels Tuesday following a brief battle with their crews, as part of an unprecedented crackdown on illegal fishing in tense inter-Korean waters.
"South Korea's military police captured two Chinese vessels during their crackdown operation at around 7:10 p.m. and turned the boats over to the Coast Guard," the Joint Chiefs of Staff reported in a press release, which explained that their crews refused to heed initial warnings.
The statement elaborated that Chinese crew members resisted capture by hurling fishing gear, according to comments carried by local news agency Yonhap.
Tuesday's action was the first tangible breakthrough in an operation that began last Friday, after Seoul's claim that boats from China had been sighted fishing illegally on more than 500 occasions during the first five months of the year -- and despite official Chinese efforts to educate fishermen following the stabbing death of a South Korean coast guard officer during a crackdown on an intruding vessel in 2011.
To complicate matters, the South Korean-UNC operation is being conducted in neutral waters at the border with North Korea, where the Han River spills out into the sea.
Under the terms of the armistice agreement that brought the Korean War to a close in 1953, only four patrol boats are allowed to be deployed in the area.
It appeared Monday afternoon as though the operation was succeeding, with no evidence of any intruders -- even those that had escaped to the relative safety of North Korean waters over the weekend.
But that situation changed when multiple vessels returned before being driven away into North Korean territory Tuesday morning.
Seoul’s defense ministry speculated this week that the North may be allowing Chinese boats to sail in its waters in return for money.