Concluding two decades of preparations and controversies, the Navy is set to unveil a new naval base on the southern resort island of Jeju.
The construction work for the Jeju civil-military sea port base, spanning nearly 500,000 square meters with docks running some 5 kilometers in the direction of the East China Sea, is 96 percent complete as of late November, according to Capt. Kang Dong-kil, who is in charge of organizing the construction.
The Navy opened the new base to a group of South Korean journalists last Wednesday ahead of its official launch scheduled for January.
A total budget of 1.02 trillion won (US$882.3 million) has been spent to build the harbors, separated into the warship zone and the cruise vessel area. It also includes a base complex, which houses the Navy’s office and residence facilities, in addition to other amenities like a culture center and sports ground that can be shared with civilians.
The dual-use base is capable of simultaneously docking up to 20 combat ships and two of the biggest cruise ships, larger than 150,000 tons.
Now, the Navy has the drainage and paving works to finish in the final stage of the construction before wrapping up the new structure in December, which is about a 10-minute drive eastward from Jeju’s largest tourist area of Jungmun along the south coast.
The Navy stressed the new base will dramatically enhance the Navy’s ability to counter North Korea’s potential provocations at the sea borders both in the west and the east.
Launched from the new port, it will take a South Korean warship 15 hours to reach the waters close to the border island of Yeonpyeong in the Yellow Sea, six hours faster than when launched from the major Navy base in Busan, according to an official.
Yeonpyeong, located along the inter-Korean maritime border known as the Northern Limit Line, has often been a venue of inter-Korean military tensions following the North’s deadly shelling of the border island in November 2010.
Seen as a naval choke point where North Korea has to pass through to sail out to sea, the naval base on Jeju could also intercept North Korea’s possible naval shipment of weapons of mass destruction to the outside world, the official said.
The new naval compound also has in mind the mission to defend Ieo Island, known as Socotra Rock, a strategically important South Korean submerged rock located nearly 300 km southwest of Jeju.
China has previously laid claims to the resource-rich rock, which South Korea controls with the presence of its maritime research center there.
The Jeju base will cut a naval warship’s travel time to Ieo Island from 13 hours to four, according to the Navy.
The Navy will open a new installation on Jeju Island on Dec. 1 while the Navy’s 7th Task Flotilla and a submarine unit will move to that location next month.
With the relocations, Jeju will host more than 3,000 Navy troops along with an 8,500-ton guided missile destroyer and some 20 other warships at all times.
The opening of the port will also put an end to the two decades-long naval project often fraught with opposition and protests from the residents of a nearby village and environmentalists.
The naval base project was first spawned in 1993, with the Navy finally picking the current location in 2007.
As the Navy began its construction work in 2010, the villagers allied with environmentalists and religious leaders kicked off a long series of protests, which continued into present day.
The massive protests led to a major delay in the construction work, originally scheduled to finish by 2014, with some 700 residents of the Gangjeong Village and activists arrested for their protest rallies.