North Korean officials have demanded payment before they will release Chinese fishing boats with a total of 29 men on board, Chinese media reported yesterday, in a rare public spat between the neighbors and longtime allies.
The Chinese owners of the boats said they were seized by a North Korean gunboat on May 8 in the Yellow Sea, between China and North Korea, the Beijing News reported.
The owners said the vessels were fishing in Chinese waters. North Korea has not made any public comment on the case.
The North Koreans holding the boats and sailors demanded payment of 1.2 million yuan (US$189,800) for releasing them, then cut their price to 900,000 yuan and set a deadline of yesterday, Zhang Dechang, owner of one of the captured boats told the newspaper, which called the demand a “ransom.”
The 29 sailors who were on board the boats are now in North Korea, said one captured seaman in a call with an owner, the newspaper added.
The Chinese government would not publicly confirm any details about the reported incident.
“China is maintaining close contact with North Korea through the relevant channels, and we hope this problem will be appropriately solved as soon as possible,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊) told a daily briefing.
“We have also stated to North Korea that it should ensure the legitimate rights of Chinese ship personnel,” he said.
It was unclear whether the seizure of the boats was authorized by the North Korean government, or was the initiative of local officials.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry told the Beijing News the incident was a “fisheries case,” and will be resolved as soon as possible.
In other news, Filipino protesters yesterday said they plan to sail to a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, amid efforts by rival claimants China and the Philippines to resolve a tense maritime stand-off.
Led by Nicanor Faeldon, an outspoken former captain in the Philippine Marine Corps, the group is to launch out toward the Scarborough Shoal today, his spokesman Kit Guerrero said yesterday.
The Scarborough Shoal is known as Huangyan Island (黃岩島) in Taiwan, which also lays claim to it.
“They want to protest against the aggression being committed by China against our country,” Guerrero said.
He said at least two fishing vessels carrying Faeldon’s group were expected at the shoal today.
“They are intending to stay there at least three days and fish, if they are not prevented from doing so,” Guerrero said, adding planting a Philippine flag on the rock was also an option.
The group of at least six could be stopped or even detained by Chinese naval patrols, he said.
Both countries have had ships posted around the shoal since April 10, when Chinese vessels prevented a Philippine ship from arresting Chinese fishermen.
Each side later imposed separate fishing bans around the area that came into effect on Wednesday.
Faeldon served time in prison and was discharged from the Philippine marines for a 2003 coup attempt, but was granted amnesty last year. He has in the past called for civil disobedience and greater accountability in the Philippine military.
Additional reporting by AFP