SEOUL, July 25 (UPI) -- South Korea has launched its second Incheon-class FFX coastal defense vessel, Yonhap News Agency reported.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and senior naval officials attended the launching ceremony for the 2,300-ton frigate Gyeonggi at Hyundai Heavy Industry's shipyard in the southeastern city of Ulsan.
The Incheon, lead vessel in the class, was designed under the government's Future Frigate Experimental program and launched in January.
Yonhap reported naval officials said the Gyeonggi -- named after Gyeonggi province that surrounds Seoul -- will be delivered to the navy next year and deployed for operation in 2015.
The Incheon is expected to be commissioned next year.
About 20 frigates will be built to replace the country's aging Ulsan and Pohang patrol escort ships by 2020. The vessels were built between the early 1980s and the early 1990s.
The Pohang-class vessels were built by Korea Shipbuilding Corp., Hyundai Heavy Industries, Daewoo Shipbuilding and Korea Takoma. Hyundai Heavy Industries also built the Ulsan guided missile ships.
The Incheon and Gyeonggi vessels are South Korea's first coastal patrol vessels built after the sinking of the patrol ship Cheonan -- a Pohang-class ship -- allegedly by North Korea in March 2010. The incident raised many questions by South Korean politicians and defense analysts about the condition of the navy's equipment.
The 1,200-ton naval corvette Cheonan sank rapidly after an explosion from a suspected torpedo ripped the vessel in half. It sank just more than 1 mile southwest of Baeknyeong Island near the de facto sea border with North Korea.
North Korea consistently denies it had anything to do with the sinking.
The South Korean government also became concerned the country's maritime protection was left wanting in the face of increasing intrusions by foreign fishing ships, especially Chinese and North Korean, into its economic zones.
In December 2011, then-South Korean President Lee Myung-bak called for "strong" measures to protect the country's coast guard sailors during an increasing crackdown on illegal fishing by Chinese boats. Lee said he wanted no repeat of the attack earlier that month on two coast guard sailors during a raid on a Chinese boat suspected of fishing illegally in South Korean waters earlier.
A coast guard officer allegedly was stabbed by the captain of the Chinese fishing boat and died shortly after in hospital. Another coast guard member was stabbed but lived, Yonhap reported.
The confrontation between the coast guard and Chinese fishing vessel was one of the most difficult in years, said the team that boarded the ship, a report in Joongang Daily said at the time.