South Korea disbands Coast Guard
By Sangeeta Saxena
New Delhi. When the 6,825-ton ferry Sewol, carrying an estimated 476 people, sank off South Korea’s southwest coast on April 16, leaving more than 300 people dead or missing, the world had not anticipated that the axe would fall on the country’s maritime guarding force Coast Guard.
The government has come under fire over for it’s passive and uncoordinated response to the disaster. Allegedly, none of the Coast Guard's officers were found to have entered the sinking vessel in the early hours of the disaster, and an emotionally charged South Korean President announced the disbanding of the force. "The coast guard's rescue operations were virtually a failure," Park said in a nationally televised speech. She is pushing for a legislation that would transfer the coast guard's responsibilities to the national police agency and a new government body she plans to establish. According to President Park Geun-hye , "investigation and information roles will be transferred to the [Korean] police while the rescue and salvage operation and ocean security roles will be transferred to the Department for National Safety which will be newly established".
It’s true that the coast guard needs to be reformed, but disbanding it because it has botched up rescue operations isn’t a very matured response. Haeyang-gyeongchal-cheong, literally Maritime Police Agency is responsible for maritime safety and control off the coast of South Korea. The KCG is an external branch of Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries at peacetime. Recently, with continuous border crossings by Chinese watercraft, the Korean Coast Guard has deployed a significant number of heavy vessels to the Yellow Sea. The KCG has its headquarters in Songdodong, Incheon, and has hundreds of smaller operating stations along the coastline of the Korean Peninsula.
The Coast Guard Authority was formed on 23 December 1953 in Busan, at the same time a Maritime Police Unit was also established as part of the National Police Agency. In October 1962, new bases were established in Incheon, Yeosu, Pohang, and Kunsan. In February 1963, the aviation unit of the KCG closed, though it reopened in the 80's. Since 1980 the KCG began expanding its fleet largely, and in August 1991 the Police Unit was renamed the Korea National Maritime Police Agency. In 2007 the Korea National Maritime Police Agency was integrated into the Coast Guard.
In the early 21st century, the fleet expanded to include various vessels of over 3,000 tons, and as of January 2002, the 'Korean Coast Guard Special Operation Unit' was officially formed. In the May 2008, the "Search & Rescue Maintenance Unit" was newly constructed, and as of late 2008, various sub-agencies changed infrastructural composition. The Korean Coast Guard plans to field more vessels over 5000 tons by 2015, and expand its asymmetric warfare force significantly by encouraging participation from other branches of the police.
The Korean Coast Guard operates 4 classes of heavy vessels (over 1000 tons), 3 classes of medium vessels (over 250 tons), and 3 classes of light vessels (speedboats over 30 tons). The KCG also uses several types of 'special purpose watercraft', such as firefighting vessels, barges, high speed scout boats, light patrols, and amphibious hovercraft. The KCG aviation unit fields 6 fixed-wing aircraft and 16 rotary-wing aircraft.
Rescuing isn’t the only job it has in hand. Korea Coast Guard ensures to protect sea from maritime crime and keep maritime security and peace. It has always been in the forefront for surveillance of marine pollution and prevention of hazardous spills in order to keep waters clean and to preserve abundant marine resources. It has always responded quickly against international maritime crimes including enforcement of Alien Migrant Interdiction by seizing current tendency of international crime. It performs to build a clean maritime environment through prevention activities thoroughly against hazardous spills or discharge and perfect pollution control. And traditionally the force has executed all these tasks well.
The onus of the disaster has been put on the Coast guard whereas the responsibility was to be shouldered by Maritime Police Agency and Korean Navy along with them. The Defense Ministry had appointed Adm. Hwang Ki-chul, the chief of naval operations, to lead the rescue support team, including the 14,000-ton amphibious landing ship Dokdo, three military aircraft and hundreds of naval and army commandos. Park also apologised for the government's handling of the sinking, and accepted the final responsibility for not properly dealing with this incident . So does that mean the President should resign for this failure?
Meanwhile Korean Coast Guard is coming out of the shock from this blame game. “All members of the coast guard will humbly accept the intention of the president and the people and continue to push forward with the search until the last remaining victim is found,” Kim Suk Kyoon, Commissioner General of the Coast Guard, said in an e-mailed government release.
It seems a case of wrong diagnosis and prescription by the South Korean President. If she doesn’t give a quick re-think to her decision , the nation and the region will bear the brunt of this rash decision, keeping in mind the dire need of having an active Coast guard with North Korea and China perpetually flexing their muscles in the waters surrounding South Korea.