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South Korea Hosts International Maritime Exercises

Waters off the southern tip of the Korean peninsula were the site of first-of-their-kind multinational maritime drills this week. South Korea hosted coast guard vessels and observers from five nations, for exercises aimed at improving security across Northeast Asia's coastal regions.

Large coast guard cutters from South Korea, the United States, Japan, and Russia sat several hundred meters across from each other off the shores of Busan, South Korea.

This was not a showdown - but a team-up.

Orange smoke representing an onboard fire billowed from a large vessel with the words "training craft" painted on the side.

A South Korean coast guard vessel sounded an emergency alert by blowing its horn and sending flares into the sky.

A Russian boat then dispatched motorized rafts to pull up alongside the troubled vessel and rescue simulated survivors.

As the rafts jetted away to safety, the South Korean and Russian vessels opened up pressurized water cannons, pumping thousands of liters of ocean water high into the air, in a trajectory aimed at the deck of the flaming ship. The crew of a U.S. coast guard cutter and observing delegates from China and Canada watched the drill from a distance.

The South Korean commander supervising the operation, Kwon Dong-ok, says the drill capped three days of international exercises involving South Korea, Russia, the United States, Japan, China, and Canada.

He says for the first time, the six nations cooperated in scenarios such as illegal drug interception, fire fighting, and evacuating survivors from sinking ships. He says the exercises are to take place every year, with each country taking turn to host the drills.

Kwon says the drills are designed to allow countries taking part to share maritime law enforcement specialties - a strategy that can be expanded into broader international operations.

He says the United States, for example, is comparatively strong in the field of maritime drug interception. At the same time, he says South Korea and Japan have strengths in coastal rescue missions.

The cooperation between South Korea and Japan follows what almost became a naval confrontation earlier this year between the two countries over disputed islands. South Korean protesters aboard boats tried to block this week's exercises with a demonstration against Japan's claim to the islands, but were turned back by South Korean maritime police.