South Korea’s coast guard yesterday said it was holding 23 Chinese fishermen in custody for questioning after a violent clash in the Yellow Sea that left one Chinese crew member dead.
The coast guard seized two 93-tonne vessels on Tuesday and towed them to the southwestern port of Mokpo after an operation against about 30 Chinese trawlers it said were fishing illegally in South Korean waters.
“A Chinese consul general interviewed the fishermen one by one after they arrived here this morning,” a coast guard spokesman said from Mokpo.
A 44-year-old fisherman was fatally wounded by a rubber bullet after coast guard commandos boarded one of the vessels and were confronted by crew members armed with knives, axes, saws and other weapons.
He was declared dead after being rushed by helicopter to a hospital in Mokpo.
Coast guard officers said they had fired five rubber bullets, one of which hit the chest of the man who was wielding a saw.
An autopsy will be conducted to determine if the rubber bullet killed him, Mokpo coast guard chief Kang Seong-hee told reporters.
“We never fire rubber bullets if they [the fishermen] comply with inspections,” he said.
The South Korean foreign ministry expressed regret over the death, while the Chinese embassy in Seoul asked officials to investigate it “seriously and thoroughly.”
Illegal fishing by Chinese boats is common in South Korean waters and more than 130 boats have been seized so far this year.
In December 2010, a Chinese boat overturned and sank in the Yellow Sea after ramming a South Korean coast guard vessel. Two Chinese crewmen were killed.
Last year in December, a coast guard officer was stabbed to death in a struggle with Chinese sailors.