SEOUL, South Korea — A Chinese fishing boat capsized in a maritime scuffle with a South Korean coast guard ship trying to curb its illegal fishing activities Saturday, killing one fisherman and leaving two others missing, South Korea’s coast guard said.
About 50 Chinese fishing boats were illegally fishing in western South Korean waters off Gunsan city, about 170 miles south of Seoul, when the South Korean ship approached them, coast guard spokesman Ji Kwan-tae said. One of the boats intentionally hit the larger coast guard ship to allow fellow Chinese vessels to sail back to their waters, and then capsized, he said.
Eight people from the capsized boat were plucked from the sea, but one was unconscious and later died at a Gunsan hospital, the coast guard said in a statement. Coast guard boats and helicopters were dispatched to the area to locate the two missing Chinese sailors, it said.
Coast guard officers fought with fishermen on other Chinese boats who wielded steel pipes, shovels and clubs, and four of the officers suffered fractured arms and other injuries, the statement said. None of the injuries were life-threatening, Ji said.
Chinese fishing fleets have been going farther afield to feed growing domestic demand. A collision between a Chinese fishing boat and Japanese coast guard vessels in September led to a nasty diplomatic spat between the two countries over disputed islands in the East China Sea. The incident soured what had been improving relations between China and Japan.
More than 300 Chinese fishing boats are captured for fishing illegally in South Korean waters every year, according to South Korea’s coast guard. In 2008, one South Korean coast guard officer was killed and six others injured in a maritime scuffle with Chinese fishermen fishing in South Korean waters.
A senior South Korean Foreign Ministry official expressed regret over the death of the Chinese fisherman in a phone call to the Chinese consul general in Seoul, Yonhap news agency reported. Calls to the South Korean Foreign Ministry went unanswered.
A man answering the phone at the China Maritime Search and Rescue Center in Beijing confirmed that a Chinese fishing boat capsized Saturday in the Yellow Sea and two Chinese fishermen were missing. But another man at the center — reached by phone an hour later — said nine fishermen had been rescued and only one was missing. South Korea’s coast guard couldn’t immediately explain the discrepancy in the number of missing fishermen.
Both men — who didn’t give their names, as is common with Chinese officials — said China dispatched a rescue boat to the area.
Calls to the Chinese Embassy in Seoul went unanswered.
Associated Press writer Cara Anna and researcher Henry Hou in Beijing contributed to this report.