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Fishing campaign sees many perish at sea

Ahn Jong Sik, Deputy Head, SBS Political Department  |  2016-12-19 14:58
Three North Korean fishing boats were rescued by the South Korean navy and maritime police near the islands of Ulleungdo and Dokdo between December 11 and 12. The dilapidated vessels appeared to be drifting south after fishing operations.

During the subsequent investigation, the rescued fishermen informed the South Korean authorities of a shocking series of events that had occurred. According to their testimonies, one of the three vessels, a small wooden ship that set out in September, had been drifting for more than three months at sea, with most of its crew members perishing from starvation and/or dehydration.

As the water and food supplies started to dwindle, the fishermen began to die as the winter cold and hunger set in. The surviving sailors were too exhausted to prevent the bodies of the dead being swept overboard in the ocean swells, with the remaining crew members rescued by the South Korean navy at the last minute. [According to the Ministry of Unification, the eight rescued fishermen from the three vessels were repatriated on Monday, December 19.]

The other two vessels had also started their respective journeys in November. One lost power after a collision with a Chinese fishing boat and the other began drifting when the chain attaching it to the ship that was towing it broke. But these two vessels were rescued relatively early, so no casualties were reported except for some crew members who went overboard after the collision with the Chinese boat.

Kim Jong Un's orders to improve fishing production increases accidents at sea

A number of other unknown accidents have presumably occurred, considering the number of ships located by the South Korean authorities. 

On November 15, Kim Jong Un conducted on-site inspections at fisheries stations under the auspice of the Korean People's Army to emphasize the importance of fishing. According to a broadcast by Korean Central TV on December 15, Kim emphasized the fishing battle and the need to conduct every possible measure for fishing (collective or separate fishing, deep-sea or coastal fishing, and fishing with ships of various sizes) to guarantee that catches are made for 300 days of the year. Following the supreme leaders emphasis, fishermen are inevitably being put at risk to achieve higher quotas. 

Kim's emphasis on fishing productivity appears to have arisen from the belief that fishing can resolve the countrys chronic food shortages. While basic grain production remains important, quantities of meat and fish also need to be provided to the population. However, increases in meat production cannot be achieved quickly, as raising livestock requires significant infrastructure. In contrast, fish are relatively abundant, and the regime has sought what it believes to be an easy solution by increasing the pressure on its fishermen.

Although the increased pressure is evidently putting lives in danger, Kim Jong Un remains focused on publicity for the regime, recently quoted as saying, "The General (Kim Jong Il) would be pleased to see the residents of Pyongyang receiving fish caught by the Korean People's Army.

*Translated by Yejie Kim
*Edited by Lee Farrand

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