updated 7/4/2006 10:55:02 PM ET 2006-07-05T02:55:02

Japan demanded Wednesday that South Korea immediately halt an operation to chart waters claimed by both countries, and sent a coast guard patrol boat chasing after the South Korean ship conducting the survey.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry made the demand as the Japanese patrol boat pursued the South Korean ship though the disputed waters. In Tokyo, Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs Shotaro Yachi summoned the South Korean ambassador to file a protest over the survey, Kyodo News agency reported.

“It is extremely regrettable,” a Foreign Ministry statement said of South Korea’s survey. “We demand they immediately stop.”

Japan and South Korea have long sparred over the ownership of the islets as part of a wider struggle to define their economic rights in the area. The group of rocky islets called Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in Korea are thought to be surrounded by rich fishing grounds and potential deposits of methane hydrate, a potent source of natural gas.

In recent months, the neighbors have objected to each other’s plans to survey the disputed waters, seeing such surveys as assertions of ownership. Tensions flared in April when South Korea protested similar survey plans by Japan, sending gunboats to meet the Japanese survey fleet. Tokyo shelved the study after last-minute negotiations.

Tensions rise
Japan said Wednesday it may resurrect the plans to conduct its own maritime survey, which would further stoke regional tensions.

The South Korean ship, which launched the maritime survey between the two countries on Monday, entered waters Japan claims as its exclusive economic zone at 6:41 a.m. and was intercepted by a Japanese patrol boat soon after, the Japanese Coast Guard said.

The Japanese patrol boat radioed the South Korean ship to stop its activities, but the vessel refused and headed toward the disputed islets, the Coast Guard said.

The Japanese boat pursued the survey ship, which appeared to be escorted by a South Korean patrol ship, the Coast Guard said.

The survey boat’s crew radioed the Japanese to say it was surveying South Korean waters and should not be obstructed, the Coast Guard said.

From South Korea, the Maritime Affairs Ministry claimed the Japanese ship had entered South Korean waters near the disputed islets, ministry official Park Noh-jung said.

South Korea’s Yonhap News agency reported that the survey was supposed to be completed Wednesday. But Kim Ok-soo, an official at South Korea’s National Oceanographic Research Institute, said the survey will continue until July 17.

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