Japan’s coast guard yesterday said it has arrested two Chinese boat skippers in separate cases of suspected illegal fishing in Japanese waters.
Officials said a 39-year-old skipper was arrested on Tuesday for alleged coral poaching off the Goto Islands near Kyushu and a second skipper was arrested on Wednesday near the Ogasawara islands, 1,000km south of Tokyo.
They said both allegedly ignored calls to stop for inspection, prompting a chase.
If convicted, the skippers could face up to six months in jail or a fine of up to ￥300,000 (US$3,840).
The arrests are a possible fresh test for sometimes fraught maritime relations, just days after a South Korean officer was stabbed to death at sea.
On Tuesday, a coast guard vessel pursued the fisherman’s 130 tonne boat for more than six hours after it was spotted lowering ropes into the water about 4km off the Goto Islands.
Japanese officers found some coral and tools to collect the organisms on the boat, but they have yet to determine whether they were taken from Japanese territorial waters, the coast guard said.
The boat’s captain, Zhong Jinyin (鍾進音), 39, was taken to the coast guard’s Nagasaki office while investigators inspected the boat, which had 10 other crew on board, a spokesman said.
The coast guard approached the boat at about 10:30pm on Monday, prompting the Chinese to flee, despite repeated Japanese orders to stop.
In total, five coast guard vessels took turns to chase the Chinese vessel until about 5 am, when the boat was stopped for an onboard inspection.
“We used a speed boat to bring the boat’s captain to [the coast guard’s office in] Nagasaki. The on-site investigation of the vessel is continuing, before we move the ship and the rest of the crew,” a spokesman said. “We are not experiencing any disobedient behavior from the captain.”
The latest arrest comes as Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is scheduled to visit Beijing for two days, starting on Sunday.
China called on Japan to respect the rights of the fishermen.
“We have asked the Japanese side to ensure the safety of the Chinese crew and the boat, and ensure their legitimate rights and interests,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin (劉為民) told a press briefing.