Chinese authorities were yesterday investigating claims that unidentified North Koreans hijacked a Chinese fishing boat, kidnapping 16 sailors and demanding a ransom, local media and an official said.
Armed North Koreans hijacked the boat on May 6 and escorted it toward North Korea while it was sailing in waters about 70km from North Korea’s western coast, according to reports and the boat’s owner, Yu Xuejun (于學君).
“The crew were taken away by a North Korean patrol boat after an armed hijacking,” Yu told reporters, adding that the kidnappers had contacted him to demand a ransom of 600,000 yuan (US$98,000).
“We are currently investigating [the boat owner’s claims],” a section chief surnamed Zhao with the state border detachment — which is responsible for border security in the northeastern port city of Dalian — told foreign media.
The Southern Metropolis Daily said the Chinese embassy in North Korea told Yu it was “dealing with the matter.”
Yu was not certain of the kidnappers’ identity, but told reporters he suspected they were associated with North Korea’s army.
Yu claimed to have been in contact with the 16 crew members as recently as Saturday and said he believed they were in good health, but added that he was “worried that the North Koreans could abuse our sailors.”
He said he had reported the incident to Chinese authorities, but later posted details of the hijacking on the Internet out of frustration over an apparent lack of official action.
“It has almost been two weeks, but I haven’t seen any results,” he said.
The reported incident comes a year after the return of 29 fishermen also kidnapped by unidentified North Koreans, who had demanded a 1.2 million yuan ransom.
The fishermen were returned without ransom after the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had contacted North Korea in an effort to resolve the case, the Xinhua news agency reported.
The Global Times newspaper last year quoted Dalian residents as saying North Korean coast guard personnel had in the past captured fishing boats and stolen fuel and other items on board.
Tensions between North Korea and China, seen as its sole major ally, have been high in recent months after North Korea carried out a nuclear test in February, a move Beijing said it “firmly opposed.”
In a move that could see tension rise further, Pyongyang yesterday test-fired a short-range missile off its east coast, its fourth in two days, a Seoul official said.
The guided missile was fired into the East Sea (Sea of Japan) in the afternoon, a South Korean Ministry of Defense spokesman told reporters without elaborating.
On Saturday, the North fired three short-range missiles off the east coast, apparently as part of a military drill.
This story has been amended since it was first published.