Nearly 70,000 cases of exotic diseases and insect pests were detected at airports and sea ports across South Korea over the last seven years, government data showed Saturday, pointing to a possible loophole in the nation's quarantine system for imports.
The number of interceptions of non-indigenous diseases and insect pests at airports and ports nationwide from 2010 to 2016 amounts to 69,445, according to the data of the Animal and Plant Quarantine Agency, which was obtained and released by Rep. Wi Seong-gon of the ruling Democratic Party.
The figure ranged from about 7,000 to about 9,000 annually between 2010 and 2014, but surged to 12,075 in 2015 and 13,529 in 2016, it said.
Wi disclosed the data after some 25 red fire ants were found in a storage container at Busan's Gamman port last week.
Asia accounted for 68 percent, or 47,205 cases, of the origins of exotic diseases and insect pests discovered in South Korea, followed by North America with 8,580 cases, or 12 percent, and Europe with 5,665 cases, or 8 percent.
"There is growing damage from alien diseases and insect pests that sneak into South Korea. The recent discovery of red fire ants in Busan was also foreseen long before," said Wi.
"The demand for quarantine inspections has been steadily rising at the nation's ports but the number of quarantine personnel has not increased proportionately. The government should work harder to take countermeasures," said the lawmaker.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs said that the government has been conducting an all-out campaign to contain the spread of imported red fire ants beyond the port of Busan.
The ministry said it has set up 3,467 forecasting traps for the potentially dangerous insect at 34 major ports nationwide and launched an investigative team composed of 20 experts and officials.
The team has conducted a thorough examination of inland cargo depots in Yangsan, South Gyeongsang Province, and Uiwang, Gyeonggi Province, while all cargo trucks leaving the Gamman port undergo disinfecting measures, said the ministry.
The highly invasive alien red ant species has a sting that can cause severe allergic reactions, including breathing problems that sometimes lead to death.
Minister of Oceans and Fisheries Kim Young-choon visited the Busan port Saturday and vowed to take all possible measures to prevent the spread of red fire ants and other harmful insects in the nation in cooperation with the agriculture, environment and other ministries.
Kim also said that monitoring for the red fire ants should last for up to two years and that an independent quarantine organization should be set up to thoroughly prevent the entry of harmful insects into the country. (Yonhap)