SEOUL • South Korean coastguard vessels for the first time fired machine guns at Chinese boats illegally fishing in Korean waters, an official said yesterday.
There were no casualties reported from Tuesday's incident, the first of its kind since the coastguard announced last month that it would pursue a "more aggressive" firearms policy with Chinese trawlers.
Disputes over illegal fishing have dogged relations between South Korea and China for years.
Senior coastguard official Kim Jung Shik said the order to fire came during a stand-off with some 30 Chinese fishing boats illegally operating near the South's Yellow Sea border with North Korea.
"They tried to ram our ships although we repeatedly warned them... I thought our officers would be in danger if I allowed more resistance so we ended up using the crew service weapon," he told Yonhap news agency.
Initial machine gun bursts were fired into the air, but the crew were later ordered to fire on bows of the Chinese boats sailing directly at the coastguard vessels.
Two Chinese trawlers were seized in the clash.
Seoul has been asking Beijing to take a tougher stand on its vessels that have entered the South's waters in increasing numbers to satisfy growing demand at home for fresh seafood.
Small wooden Chinese ships were once tolerated, but have since given way to larger steel trawlers which engage in bottom trawling.