Isle tensions flare up again

Seoul ignores warnings, sends ship for sea survey

by Hiroko Nakata

Tensions between Tokyo and Seoul flared again Monday when South Korea began maritime research in waters around islets under its control that are also claimed by Japan.

The move, which involves the islets called Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea, proceeded despite repeated warnings from Tokyo.

Foreign Ministry sources said Tokyo will consider dispatching survey ships to the area should Seoul ignore the request and conduct the survey within what Japan says is its exclusive economic zone, based on its claims to the disputed islets.

According to reports from South Korea, the 2,533-ton Ocean-2000 is likely to enter the EEZ that Japan claims around July 13, finishing surveys near the islets in around one day.

“If South Korea conducts the survey, we will also consider doing it,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said.

Japan Coast Guard patrol ships will also be sent to urge the South Korean ships to turn back should they enter what Japan considers its EEZ, the official added.

The chief of the Japan Coast Guard, however, said last week Japan would not seize the South Korean ship because it is a government-owned vessel. According to international law, only the sovereign state has control of its government ships on the high seas.

South Korea’s National Oceanographic Research Institute, which organized the survey, said Monday the ship would study currents, sea temperatures and saline density in waters near the disputed islets until July 11.

“The Ocean-2000 is conducting research activities around the shores of the East Sea (Sea of Japan) after departing the port of Busan early this morning,” Jung You Sub, director general of the National Oceanographic Research Institute, said in a report from Yonhap News Agency.

Jung did not give details on when the ship would approach the islets, Yonhap News said.

“Twenty-four crew members and nine researchers are aboard the Ocean-2000 and we will carry out research fully in accordance with our sailing notice made in January,” Jung was quoted as saying.

Tokyo reacted strongly to the move Monday.

“If South Korea carries out the ocean survey as it initially planned, we will act appropriately based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and related laws at home,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe told a news conference earlier in the day.

Seoul has not yet formally told Tokyo about its survey plan, Abe added.

Asked if Japan would also dispatch a survey ship, Abe only said it is important that both countries refrain from conducting such studies.

Yonhap said the 2,533-ton Ocean-2000 left port at 10:30 p.m. Sunday.

The ship, anchored in Busan, took on survey equipment and about two dozen crew members at around 6 p.m. Sunday, Yonhap said.

Tensions rose sharply in April when Japan announced it would conduct its own seabed survey as a counterproposal to South Korea’s plan to survey and name seafloor topography in the area at an international conference.

The row was defused after both sides backed down.

Information from Kyodo added