The Navy announced its plan yesterday to build a military port on Jeju Island in a bid to better respond to regional conflicts.
Despite local opposition to the plan, 800 billion won has been earmarked for the project, with construction scheduled to begin in 2009 and end in 2014. Officials said they will conduct an environmental feasibility study by 2008 and will compensate any damage to the fishing industry.
The envisioned port in Hwasoon-ni, located in the southern part of the scenic Jeju Island, will accommodate about 20 ships, 7,500 sailors and 49 command posts and other supporting buildings.
The size of the port will be about 396,000 square meters and 1,700 meters long.
"The new port could embrace South Korea`s KDX-II and Aegis-equipped KDX-III destroyers, and other new submarines under construction," Capt. Oh Chul-sik, a chief of the Navy public affairs office, told a news conference.
According to the Navy, it is expected to have six KDX-IIs by 2007 and three KDX-IIIs destroyers by 2012, and three LPX cargo ships by 2011.
The new port will also help the South Korean Navy transform into a rapid deployment fleet coping with any emergency situations, Oh said.
"Because most of the country`s trade is made on the southern waters, the Navy needs to have a port there. Deployment from the new port could save seven to eight hours from the southern Jinhae port." he added.
Another Navy official said the port could provide the Navy with better opportunities to contribute to possible regional emergencies.
"If there is a conflict in the Taiwan Strait or Malacca Strait (in Southeast Asia), Korean ships will be better positioned to conduct operations," the official said.
A strategy of deploying its forces to various military posts to avoid collateral damage is one consideration of building the new port, Oh said.
In 2002, the Navy pushed the same plan, but had to discard it in the face of vehement public opposition.
Local civic groups opposed the Navy plan, vowing to stage protests to thwart the project again. Residents have been more reserved, saying they will first need full briefings by the Navy.
The Navy said it will earmark about 257 billion won a year to run the port, which will attract tourists and foreign sailors, eventually boosting the economy in the region.
By Joo Sang-min