POSTED: 3:34 p.m. HST, Dec 11, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 4:24 a.m. HST, Dec 12, 2011
SEOUL, South Korea >> A Chinese fishing captain fatally stabbed a South Korean coast guard officer and wounded another Monday after they stopped his boat for illegally fishing in crab-rich South Korean waters, officials said.
South Korea, which had asked China's ambassador just last week to try to rein in illegal Chinese fishing its waters, lodged a strong protest with the diplomat over the latest incident — the first deadly clash between the South Korean coast guard and Chinese fishermen in three years.
China's Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, urged Seoul to safeguard the rights of detained Chinese fishermen. However, an analyst said the incident was unlikely to significantly affect overall ties between the countries.
Officers from two coast guard ships boarded the fishing boat over suspicions it was illegally operating Yellow Sea waters rich blue crabs, anchovies and croaker, when the captain attacked with an unidentified weapon, coast guard spokesman Kim Dong-jin said.
A South Korean officer stabbed in the side was taken by helicopter to a hospital in the port city of Incheon but later died, Kim said. The other officer was stabbed in the abdomen and was to undergo surgery. The Chinese captain had minor injuries from the fight and was also taken to the hospital, Kim said.
The weapon was not identified. Besides the captain, eight other Chinese fishermen on the boat were arrested and taken to Incheon, the coast guard said in a statement.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said Monday in Beijing that the ministry was ready to work with South Korea on the case. He told a daily news conference that Chinese authorities had taken steps to better educate fishermen "to prohibit cross-border fishing and irregularities."
Liu called on Seoul to "fully protect the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese fishermen and provide them with due humanitarian treatment."
Last week, South Korean authorities raised fines levied on foreign fishing vessels caught operating in Seoul's self-declared exclusive economic zone, an apparent reflection of the government's impatience with a rising number of Chinese boats found fishing in the waters.
"Eradicating Chinese boats' illegal fishing in our waters is a most urgent task to safeguard our fishermen and fisheries resources," South Korea's Yonhap news agency said in a recent editorial. "The government should mobilize every possible means and continue the crackdown on illegal fishing."
Monday's fighting isn't likely to undermine overall ties, although Seoul is expected to pressure Beijing harder over illegal fishing, said Lee Chang-hyung of Seoul's government-affiliated Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.
The coast guard says it has seized about 470 Chinese ships for illegal fishing in the Yellow Sea so far this year, up from 370 last year. The coast guard usually releases the ships after a fine is paid, though violence occasionally occurs.
Chinese fishing fleets have been going farther afield to feed growing domestic demand for seafood.
With some 300,000 fishing vessels and 8 million fishermen, the Chinese fishing industry is by far the world's largest, producing an annual catch in excess 17 million tons. But catches have decreased in waters close to China's shores, forcing the fleet to venture farther.
In 2008, one South Korean coast guard officer was killed and six others injured in a fight with Chinese fishermen in South Korean waters. Last year, a collision between a Chinese fishing boat and Japanese coast guard vessels led to a diplomatic spat between the countries over disputed islands in the East China Sea.
Starting in 2009, China's fishing fleet has also appeared to be acting in concert with the nation's perceived intention to press forward with claims in disputed maritime areas — 2009 was the deadline imposed by a U.N. treaty for continental seabed contestants to file formal undertakings — and by a sense that the financial crisis in the West had opened the door to more assertive Chinese behavior in areas it had long regarded as falling within its legitimate sphere of influence.
In March of that year, several Chinese fishing trawlers accompanied by two Chinese fisheries enforcement ships and at least one Chinese naval vessel harassed an American surveillance ship 75 miles (120 kilometers) south of China's Hainan island.
Associated Press writer Peter Enav in Taipei, Taiwan, and Alexa Olesen in Beijing contributed to this report.