The captain of a Chinese fishing boat was killed on Friday when the South Korean Coast Guard fired shots as officers tried to impound a vessel they said was illegally fishing in South Korean waters.
A coast guard official said the captain appeared to have been struck when an officer fired warning shots from a pistol during a violent clash between South Korean officers who boarded the ship and the crews of the boat and four other vessels that joined in the fight.
The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because there had been no official government announcement about the cause of the captain’s death.
The fishermen were brandishing broken beer bottles and knives, according to Choi Chang-sam, the head of the Mokpo Coast Guard Station, and the South Korean news agency Yonhap reported that fishermen yanked off an officer’s helmet and tried to strangle him. The four other Chinese fishing vessels surrounded the South Korean ship in an effort to stop the seizure of the vessel that was boarded, the coast guard said.
The captain who was killed was from one of those boats. (Originally, South Korean officials reported that he was the skipper of the ship that was boarded, but they later said he was not.)
Coast guard officials said fishermen on the boat the South Koreans tried to impound were fishing about 90 miles west of Wangdeung-do, an island off western South Korea.
The two countries have forged warmer relations under President Park Geun-hye of South Korea and China’s president, Xi Jinping, with their efforts overshadowing increased tensions and occasional clashes over what South Korea describes as frequent incursions by Chinese fishermen into the waters in its exclusive economic zone.
On Friday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, said China was “deeply shocked and dissatisfied with the violent actions that resulted in the death” of the captain. Asked if the shooting could harm relations, Mr. Hong said South Korea needed to deal with the situation in a “serious and sincere and proper” way.
Ms. Park has moved to improve ties with China, South Korea’s No. 1 trading partner. She visited China last year, and Mr. Xi made a state visit to Seoul, the South Korean capital, in July, during which he urged South Koreans to join the Chinese in historical disputes against Japan.
Bilateral relations, however, have also hit roadblocks, including over Beijing’s occasional crackdowns on North Korean refugees who flee to China on their way to South Korea. Tensions have also risen over recent discussions among South Korean and American officials about the possibility of deploying an American high-altitude missile defence system in South Korea.
Fishing rights began to become a serious issue in the past several years, with South Korea saying Chinese incursions have helped deplete fish stocks in its waters.
South Korea has stepped up patrols, and since 2011, up to 530 Chinese boats have been seized each year for illegal fishing and other violations, according to the coast guard. Most of the boats were released after the crew members were questioned and paid a fine.
When a South Korean ferry, the Sewol sank in April, killing 304 people, the coast guard said part of the reason it could not respond quickly was that so many of its ships were away for an exercise focused on illegal Chinese fishing.
Attempts to stop Chinese ships have led to violence before. In 2011, a South Korean coast guard officer was stabbed to death by a Chinese fisherman, and in 2012, a Chinese fisherman was killed by a rubber bullet fired by a South Korean officer. The South Korean Coast Guard in the past has released video of Chinese crew members wielding axes and metal pipes to stop South Korean officers from boarding.
After the clash on Friday, the Chinese ships fled, but the crew of the stricken captain asked the coast guard to take him to a hospital. The South Koreans airlifted the captain, who was 45, to a hospital in Mokpo, a city in the southwestern tip of South Korea, where he was pronounced dead.
China is locked in diplomatic battles with several neighbours, including South Korea, over maritime territory in nearby seas, but the waters where the boats were fishing Friday are not considered disputed. The disputes are fueled partly by China’s increasing appetite for natural resources, including fish.Source: New York Times – Fisherman From China Dies in Clash Off S. Korea
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