|ROKS Yi Sun-shin (DDH-975) "Prada Hunter"|
Navy cadet, 19 year-old Kim, admitted that he was slightly disappointed by the lack of action, telling us that on a clear day in calm seas he could often hit a fake Chanel handbag from 500 meters with his Seongsan heavy caliber machine gun, a skill he hopes will prove useful to him once he's completed his national service and left the navy. "I even thought I saw a fake Rolex once, but when I tried to engage my weapon it failed to fire." he lamented. "I quickly phoned Seongsan Customer Service using my mobile phone, but by the time they admitted to making the weapon I no longer had line of sight on the target."
Piracy has long been a major problem in Korea according to international anti-piracy organizations, although in the past the government has often blamed the apparent poor quality of branded goods here on overseas fashion houses not taking the Korean market seriously, dismissing the notion that the products are illegally made by Koreans in a Myeong-dong Seoul backstreet factory where they are illegally made. But figures leaked from the government's statistics office suggest that the counterfeit goods industry actually generates 122% of South Korea's annual GDP, although others say these figures were faked.
According to official figures, software piracy hit a five-year high in 2010 with Microsoft Windows being pirated 20,261 times – a 71% increase from the previous year – although the government has been accused of downplaying the real figure, which independent experts put at approximately 20,261,000.
Under pressure from the international community, local district offices in Seoul have responded to the 'vague concerns' of the government by conducting crackdowns on counterfeit fashion, pirate-software, CD and DVD vendors in the capital. However, the offices warned vendors beforehand, ensuring most of them were closed on the day of the inspections, and those that were caught having ignored the warning were asked to destroy the fake products, although they didn't have to.
Speaking on condition of anonymity one inspector, 46 year-old Kim, told us that "Counterfeit goods are really good for tourism, so while I spent one day a year conducting 'anti-piracy' operations for the sake of international politics, the rest of the time I work with the vendors to ensure we attract more tourists than the next district." Some have also accused the government of turning a blind-eye to the fake goods industry in Korea due to the tax revenues it generates, but all the vendors we spoke to denied the accusation that they were not faking their tax returns to avoid payments.
In Busan, people in Nampo-dong's 'Pirated Goods Street', which the local government promotes on its tourism websites, said they weren't concerned by the navy's anti-piracy drill taking place nearby. "After what happened on Yeonpyeong Island I doubt they can hit us from here." one vendor said, referring to the retaliation towards a North Korean attack last year, in which the South Korean military devastated large areas of water near the enemy coast.
But the Defense Ministry says the 'Yi Sun-shin' will continue patrolling the waters off the coast of Korea's second city from time to time, "highlighting South Korea's commitment to clamping down on piracy".
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