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Pyongyang pins sinking of its vessel on Tokyo

Oct 14,2019
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry on Saturday demanded compensation from Japan for sinking one of its fishing vessels in the East Sea last week, an act it labeled as “gangster” and a “serious threat” to the safety of its sailors.

On Oct. 7, a patrol ship of the Japanese Fisheries Agency collided into a North Korean fishing vessel in an attempt to expel it from Daehwatoe, a portion of the East Sea that Japan claims is within its exclusive economic zone. The crash resulted in the North Korean boat capsizing and around 60 of its crew members jumping into the ocean, where they were all rescued by the Japanese Coast Guard and other nearby North Korean fishing boats.

The statement from the North on Saturday, taking the form of a response to questions by the official Korean Central News Agency, claimed its fishing boat was “on a normal navigation” in the East Sea and that the Japanese authorities and media were “misleading the public opinion as if the incident was mainly caused by our fishing vessel” taking a sharp turn.

The safety of its sailors was “subjected to a serious threat” from Japan, read the English-language statement, which it said bore the responsibility for the accident.

“We have already sent advance warnings that an interruption, check or other physical act against the movements of our fishing vessels might trigger an unexpected clash,” the statement continued. “Since Japan has committed a provocative act in defiance of these warnings, it is now placed in a position not to say anything even though we take required practical measures in reaction to the former’s act.”

Claiming Japan would face an “undesirable consequence” if such an incident were to repeat itself, the statement called on the Japanese government to compensate for “material damage” and work out steps to “prevent a recurrence.”

Daehwatoe, which translates to “Yamato Shallows,” corresponds to an area in the East Sea measuring approximately one million square kilometers (386,000 square miles) that is rich in marine life like squid and crab.

Located around 330 kilometers (205 miles) away from South Korea’s Ulleung Island, the area is disputed by both Pyongyang and Tokyo, with North Korean fishing boats regularly operating there in spite of constant attempts by the Japanese Coast Guard to expel them.

According to Japan’s Fisheries Agency, 498 North Korean fishing boats were warned by its patrol vessels to leave the area from January to August this year, and in 121 of those cases, Japanese authorities fired water cannons to expel the North Korean vessels.

Some Japanese outlets attributed the increased frequency of the alleged trespassing by North Korean fishermen in these waters to the domestic economic situation in the regime. Strapped for money as a result of ongoing international sanctions on its economy, Pyongyang recently sold fishing rights to vast swaths of its economic waters to China, acquiring around $30 million through the process, according to Nikkei, Japan’s leading economic daily, which cited a 2016 South Korean government report.

With their traditional fishing grounds near both the eastern and western coasts handed over to China, North Korean fishermen have ventured farther out to sea to maintain their livelihoods, leading to greater friction with neighboring countries.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]