SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA
Three Chinese fishermen likely died from inhaling toxic fumes when a fire erupted after South Korean coast guard officers threw “flashbang” grenades into the fishing boat, officials in Seoul said Friday.
The latest in a series of violent clashes between South Korea’s coast guard and Chinese fishing boats venturing farther from their increasingly barren home waters happened Thursday when a South Korean coast guard vessel tried to stop the Chinese boat from suspected illegal fishing about 70 kilometers (43 miles) from an island off South Korea’s southwestern coast.
The vessel, which carried 17 fishermen, initially resisted and fled before South Korean coast guard officers managed to board the ship and threw flashbang grenades into its locked steering room, the coast guard said in a statement. Flashbang grenades are non-lethal devices that produce a blinding flash of light and loud sound.
A fire erupted on the boat and three fishermen found lying in the boat’s engine room later died, the coast guard statement said.
Coast guard officers said the three likely died after inhaling toxic smoke but that autopsies were planned to find the exact causes of their deaths. Authorities will also investigate if the flashbang grenades caused the fire.
The 14 surviving fishermen were taken to a South Korean port for questioning, according to the coast guard.
Seoul’s Foreign Ministry on Friday expressed regret over the deaths, but noted the Chinese boat was fishing illegally and had tried to flee to avoid an inspection.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment.
Chinese fishing boats have been going farther afield to feed growing domestic demand for seafood as catches have decreased in waters close to China’s shores.
Chinese boats have regularly had violent clashes with South Korea’s coast guard, and in 2014, a South Korea coast guardsman fatally shot the captain of a Chinese fishing vessel who was violently resisting an inspection.
In 2012, a Chinese fisherman died after being hit by a rubber bullet fired by a South Korean guardsman. A year earlier, a South Korean coast guard officer was killed in a clash with Chinese fishermen.
South China Morning Post
At least ten people were killed in a dispute over fishing spots last year, underscoring the rising tension on China’s coasts as fishermen struggle to profit from dwindling stocks, according to a recent investigation by Chinese media.
Fishermen from Hebei province engaged in a fight with some of their counterparts from nearby Shandong province after the two fleets cast their nets at the same location in the Bohai Sea in October, the Beijing Youth Daily reported on Monday.
A wooden boat with a crew of 16 in the Hebei fleet capsized after it was allegedly hit by a steel vessel from the other fleet, the report said.
Ten people, including its captain, were confirmed dead and two are still missing.
The captain of the steel ship, Xiang Aimin, told police that his fleet went into the others’ fishing zone because the stocks did not look good in their own spot.
Xiang would be charged with murder along with one of his helmsmen, while two people on another ship faced charges of gathering to assault, the report said.
Chi Lixia, the sister of a Captain Chi Xinghai killed in the incident, said steel ships from other provinces had come as the catch diminished in the Bohai Sea.
“In the past, we seldom saw or got into trouble with ships from Shandong,” Chi said.
Criminal cases involving fishermen are on the rise in China, where decades of overfishing and pollution have depleted its maritime resources.
In another fight over fishing locations in 2010, fishermen in the Bohai Sea threw stones and tools at each other. More than 250 people and 48 boats were involved.
In July this year, six fishermen in Zhejiang province were arrested for throwing stone plates at officers on a patrol boat, after they were caught fishing during an annual moratorium.
Some fishermen were driven away to disputed waters near China and even as far as the Indian Ocean to get better catches.
Their illegal fishing activities have resulted in arrests by other states, leading to diplomatic tension between China and its neighbours.
In June, Indonesia detained a Chinese boat and its crew of seven for fishing in Indonesian waters in the South China Sea, a month after it seized another vessel for illegal fishing.
Seoul has also reported a growing number of Chinese fishing boats trespassing in the neutral waters around the two Koreas.
The Chinese government has vowed to protect the country’s fish stocks by imposing fishing bans and cutting its fleet sizes.
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