S. Korea: Oceans minister vows to revitalize tepid maritime industry
South Korea’s oceans ministry said it will support the building of over 200 ships in the next three years via a state-run agency to rejuvenate the sluggish maritime industry.
Kim Young-choon, minister of oceans and fisheries, unveiled the plan to assist the shipping and shipbuilding industry through the Korea Oceans Business Corp. (KOBC), which was launched in July, amid a protracted slump in the sector.
“The shipping sector continues to struggle with the downturn in the global industry and high oil prices, while the annual fisheries production from coastal areas has remained under 1 million tons for two consecutive years,” Kim said during a parliamentary audit. “The government will concentrate policy efforts on dealing with the current issues and foster new growth drivers.”
Kim underscored the need to overhaul the nation’s fishing industry, which still relies on outdated technologies and falls behind the global standard.
“We have to renovate the whole fishing sector from marine resource management to production, distribution and consumption to revitalize the slumping fishing industry,” Kim said.
The policymaker vowed to set comprehensive plans to develop the marine tourism and leisure industry and expand support for startup companies to help create new business models and create jobs.
He also said the government will work with the local shipbuilders to develop eco-friendly, energy-efficient containers to comply with the International Maritime Organization’s sulfur cap on bunkers, set to be enforced in 2020.
Ships powered by liquefied natural gas are considered an eco-friendly option to meet strengthened international regulations, but high costs have posed challenges to private shippers.
While the leaders of two the Koreas agreed to check the mouth of the Han River during their summit last month, Kim said the two sides will only see possible waterways this year.
“I understand (the agreement) is aimed at basically looking at the mouth of the Han River because it is a symbolic region of Korea’s division where traffic has been banned for the last 70 years,” Kim told lawmakers. “It is a preliminary step that helps to resolve the North Korea nuclear problem by proposing economic benefit in return for the move.”
In regard to the two Koreas designating a joint fishing zone in the tensely guarded western sea, Kim said the government will move to the next step after asking the United Nations Security Council Sanctions Committee on North Korea.
“The militaries of the two Koreas haven’t reached an agreement on designating the joint fishing zone and difficulties are expected (in the negotiation process),” Kim said. “If they agree on issue, we will ask the U.N. committee to review (the joint fishing zone).”
While most of the proposed cross-border projects can’t take off under the U.N. sanctions imposed on Pyongyang, Kim said earlier that allowing fishermen of the two Koreas catch fish in each other’s zones under a give-and-take framework may not be subject to economic sanctions.
Kim also said his ministry hasn’t been reviewing lifting Seoul’s unilateral sanctions imposed on Pyongyang following the North’s attack on a South Korean warship in 2010.
His remark came a day after Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said that the government is reviewing so-called “May 24 sanctions” on the North with related organizations.
“Although (the oceans ministry) is a related organization, I haven’t heard of (the lifting of any sanctions),” Kim said. “Lifting the May 24 sanctions will be decided depending on the outcome of negotiations between two Koreas, as well as the United States and North Korea, which are currently under way.”
When asked about Japan’s move to release water contaminated by radiation at the Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean, Kim expressed concerns that the release could affect waters around South Korea.
“Under the present ocean current, Russia and the United States are directly affected by (the radioactive water),” Kim said. “But oceans are all connected to each other and we can’t exclude the possibility of (radioactive water) affecting sea around Korea. We will work with the international community to forge opinions and ask the Japanese government to join it later.”
If Japan does release radioactive water from the abandoned facility, Kim said it could influence the World Trade Organization (WTO)’s ruling on Seoul’s import ban on Japanese seafood.
The Tokyo government lodged a complaint with the WTO in 2015 to challenge South Korea’s import bans and additional testing requirements on fish caught from eight prefectures near Fukushima after 2013. The WTO ruled in favor of Japan in February, but Seoul appealed the decision in April.
“We are in an unfavorable situation, but I expect the situation could change if radioactive water is released again (from Japan) during the period of the appeal procedure,” Kim said.