The Defense Ministry’s plan to transfer the Army’s land-based coastal defense mission to the maritime police by 2021 is facing hurdles as the government has decided to disband the Coast Guard under intense criticism for its failed response to the ferry disaster last month.
“There is a possibility that the plan could face some delays as the mission will have to be transferred to the new institution replacing the maritime police. We also can’t rule out the possibility that the plan could get bogged down,” a ministry official said, declining to be named.
The ministry has been preparing for the transfer of the mission as it plans to curtail the number of its Army personnel to 387,000 by 2022 from the current 498,000 in consideration of the nation’s demographic changes caused by the low birthrate.
The ministry announced its transfer plan in March as part of its midterm defense reform package.
But President Park Geun-hye unveiled her plan to dismantle the Coast Guard on Monday as public outrage snowballed over its botched rescue operations. The nation’s worst maritime disaster in two decades left more than 300 people dead or missing.
Under Park’s plan, the functions of the Coast Guard are to be handed over to the envisioned national safety agency, which will serve as an overarching institution to handle social disasters in a speedier, more organized and more coordinated manner.
Some observers expressed concerns that if the transfer of the coastal patrol mission is canceled, the ministry’s plan for the troop reduction could also face some challenges considering that the geographical features of the Korean Peninsula necessitate tight coastal security.
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org)