SEOUL » South Korean officials questioned three Chinese fishermen rescued from a boat that capsized during a maritime scuffle with the coast guard in which one fisherman died and another was missing, an official said Sunday.
About 50 Chinese fishing boats were illegally fishing in western South Korean waters off Gunsan city, about 170 miles south of Seoul, on Saturday when a South Korean coast guard ship approached them to try to curb illegal fishing activities, according to the coast guard.
The boat that capsized had intentionally hit the larger coast guard ship, apparently to help its compatriots sail back to Chinese waters, coast guard official Roh Sang-gue said.
Five people from the capsized boat were rescued by Chinese fishing boats while four others were plucked from the sea by the coast guard ship, said Roh. But one of four sailors rescued by South Korea later died at a Gunsan hospital, Roh said. Coast guard boats are trying to find the missing Chinese sailor, he said.
"Questioning is under way for the three Chinese why their ship hit the coast guard vessel," Roh said, without giving any further details.
Coast guard officers fought with fishermen on other Chinese boats who wielded steel pipes, shovels and clubs, and four of the officers suffered broken arms and other injuries, the coast guard said in a statement Saturday. None of the injuries was life-threatening.
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 on Sunday.
On Saturday, a man answering the phone at the China Maritime Search and Rescue Center in Beijing confirmed a Chinese fishing boat capsized in the Yellow Sea and that a Chinese rescue boat was dispatched. The man didn’t give his name as is common with Chinese officials.