The Japanese Coast Guard yesterday saved all 64 Chinese seamen from their burning cargo ship, as the two nations remain locked in an acrimonious dispute over the contested Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台).
The coast guard was alerted by Taiwanese authorities late on Saturday about a fire on the 12,703-tonne Ming Yang and sent patrol vessels and aircraft to the scene, about 150km southeast of Okinawa, Japan.
By 2:30am yesterday morning, a Japanese coast guard ship had saved 21 people who escaped on a life raft, while 43 others remained on the deck of the burning freighter, registered in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
All of the Chinese seamen were rescued by 3:47am, with three of them suffering minor injuries, the coast guard said.
It said the ship’s chief engineer had reported hearing sounds resembling an explosion from the main engine on Saturday evening.
The Japanese Coast Guard has been busy kept busy monitoring waters around disputed islands, known as the Senkakus in Japan, far to the west of the burning freighter.
The coast guard said four Chinese official vessels were in contiguous waters around the islands.
Such vessels have been spotted in waters off the islands as the dispute escalated recently, with the boats at times entering a 12-nautical mile (22.22km) territorial zone.
Tensions peaked in the middle of last month after Tokyo bought three islets in the chain, which is also claimed by Taiwan.