S. Korea steps up quarantine efforts against red fire ants

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SEJONG, June 22 (Yonhap) -- South Korea will beef up quarantine efforts against foreign red fire ants after the highly invasive species has been discovered in major ports over the past month, the government said Friday.

Approximately 700 ants were spotted in the concrete cracks at a container terminal in Pyeongtaek, west of Seoul, on June 18. Two days later, about 3,000 ants, as well as 11 colonies, were found on the floor of a container at Busan port, raising alarms among quarantine and port authorities.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs said it has disinfected the entire area to contain spread of the red ants and will inspect all other related containers that carried coconuts and dried wood. Shipping containers from countries that have reported recent outbreaks will be thoroughly checked.

"We have set ant traps in Pyeongtaek and Busan ports as well as airports and will thoroughly inspect any outbreaks every two weeks," the ministry said in a release. "We will encourage importers to sterilize their containers. If they don't voluntarily take such actions, we will double the sample for quarantine inspections."

In September, about 1,000 red fire ants and their colony were spotted in Busan port, causing fears that South Korea may no longer be a safe zone from the aggressive species. The ants are found in countries around the world, such as the United States, Australia and China.

Red fire ants have a sting that can cause severe allergic reactions, including breathing problems, and in severe cases can lead to death.

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