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South Korea resorts to GPS forensics to tackle illegal boats

Chinese GPS units found on fishing boats operating illegally in South Korean waters are being analyzed by the Korea Maritime Science and Technology Institute. File Photo by Yonhap/EPA
Chinese GPS units found on fishing boats operating illegally in South Korean waters are being analyzed by the Korea Maritime Science and Technology Institute. File Photo by Yonhap/EPA

April 20 (UPI) -- South Korea is turning to digital forensics to recover deleted data on GPS units found on Chinese fishing boats.

A South Korean coast guard division in charge of the five northwestern border islands in the West Sea, or Yellow Sea, said work is underway on GPS forensics technology to better regulate illegal Chinese boats, KBS and News 1 reported Monday.

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The coast guard said work began in 2019, when the agency turned in 11 GPS units found on apprehended Chinese boats to the Korea Maritime Science and Technology Institute, or KIMST.

The coast guard said if digital forensics can lead to the recovery of GPS data, Seoul could more easily obtain proof of fishing violations. South Korea's coast guard currently relies on detained fishermen's testimonies and footage taken at sea to determine violations of law.

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More Chinese boats have been detained in South Korean waters in recent years, but GPS modules are often erased of all records, or damaged, possibly by the boat's crew to evade charges.

South Korean authorities have also been unable to restore Chinese GPS data due to a different system of data storage and the lack of availability of the source code, according to News 1.

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The 11 GPS units that were handed over to KIMST in 2019 are undergoing analysis as part of a state-financed R&D project. The $2.6 million project is to be completed by the end of 2022, and is receiving a mix of public and private funding.

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Yun Il-su, a coast guard official in charge of foreign relations, said digital forensics is to be used in the future to "collect evidence for illegal activities."

The global coronavirus pandemic has slowed Chinese fishing in South Korean waters, but in early April South Korea's Jeju region maritime police said they removed illegal fishing nets belonging to Chinese boats in South Korea's exclusive economic zone.

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