South Korea to use AI, drones to track illegal China trawlers

South Korea has long complained about Chinese trawlers operating in the Yellow Sea. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (BLOOMBERG) - Chinese fishing is increasing security risks near South Korea's tense nautical border, said a top Cabinet member in Seoul, pledging to deploy advanced technology to crack down on illegal trawling.

Minister of Oceans and Fisheries Moon Seong-hyeok said in an interview that illegal fishing must be "completely eradicated", joining in calls from across Asia to end what many see as Beijing's assertive push into regional waters.

South Korea has long complained about Chinese trawlers operating in the Yellow Sea - what Koreans call the West Sea - near its islands off the coast of North Korea.

"When it comes to illegal fishing, whether it be foreign or domestic vessels, we will crack down," Mr Moon told Bloomberg News on Friday (May 21), saying South Korea will from next year increase its maritime surveillance systems using drones at sea and artificial intelligence.

South Korea, which lists the US as its main military ally and China as its biggest trading partner, turned up the pressure on Beijing over the weekend when it won from Washington a termination of bilateral missile guidelines that have long restricted Seoul's development of missiles to under the range of 800km (500 miles). The move could put more major Chinese cities under South Korea's missile range.

Although Beijing denies any illegal activity, the United Nations Security Council said in a report it suspected North Korea of selling hundreds of fishing permits a year to fleets from the likes of China to fish in the waters - in violation of international sanctions.

"No country thinks favourably of illegal fishing, and that includes China," the academic-turned-minister said, adding Seoul and Beijing have long discussed terms for their fishing conditions and have already reached agreement.

Chinese trawlers have fished near South Korea's waters for years, but tensions ratcheted up in 2011 when a fisherman on a Chinese vessel being apprehended by South Korea's coast guard stabbed to death a guard member.

South Korea's military did not immediately respond to a request for numbers on suspected illegal Chinese fishing, but last month, an average of 180 Chinese vessels were spotted a day near the maritime border with North Korea, three times more than a year ago, according to broadcaster KBS.

China spooked Seoul in December by sending a warship past a self-imposed boundary near the South Korean island of Baengnyeong. It has been a key location for US allies in Seoul to spy on North Korea and now the island appears to be on China's radar.

Mr Moon also spoke about autonomous ships, concerns over Japan's plans to release into the sea treated water from its crippled Fukushima nuclear plant and South Korea's hosting of an international summit on the environment known as P4G.


"Japan's decision can be seen as an unilateral decision without sufficient consultation with neighbouring countries. We will request Japan to disclose relevant information. Also, whether it's imported or domestic products, we will thoroughly conduct radioactivity tests. In addition, we will strengthen our labelling of the country of origin."

Maritime robots

"Cleaning the bottom plating of ships is a very difficult task for humans to do. We are trying to make robots for that job. We are also developing autonomous robots for deep-sea exploration. On top of that, we've already completed developing three different types of underwater construction robots and have transferred the technologies to the private sector."


"The world must work together to achieve carbon neutrality. We are holding a special marine session for P4G summit to create awareness on this issue. I'd like to also stress the importance of our maritime environment. The ocean is the largest absorber of greenhouse gases, and it's also a place that creates renewable energy."

Autonomous ships

"According to the four levels of the International Maritime Organisation, we're currently at level three in terms of development, and we're now looking into securing the necessary technology to ultimately play a leading role in the world by 2030."

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