Chinese crew absolved in capsize case, sent homeThree Chinese fishermen held for questioning after their fishing boat rammed a Korean patrol ship and capsized near Korean waters were sent home Saturday, according to the Korea Coast Guard, a move expected to conclude a diplomatic fracas between South Korea and China.
Observers, however, say that the incident could set a soft precedent in the future for similar cases involving Chinese fishing vessels.
The three Chinese fishermen from the Liaoyingyu 35403 were released early Saturday morning and took a flight bound for Dalian in the afternoon, the Gunsan Coast Guard said.
“The Liaoyingyu  was confirmed to have obstructed the patrol ship from performing its duties,” the Gunsan Coast Guard said in a statement. “But the captain died and the other sailors were not found to be actively involved in the offense, so we handed them over to China.”
The 63-ton Chinese boat rammed a 3,000-ton Korea Coast Guard patrol ship and sank 72 miles off Gunsan, North Jeolla on Dec. 18, killing the captain. Another Chinese sailor is still missing.
The three fishermen said during the investigation that the captain deliberately rammed the patrol ship to stop it from chasing Chinese fishing boats caught fishing in Korea’s exclusive economic zone. Right before the incident, the crew of another Chinese boat, the Liaoyingyu 35432, attacked Coast Guard officers from the patrol ship trying to board their boat for inspection, wounding four Koreans.
China claimed that Korea went too far and demanded compensation.
By Moon Gwang-lip, Lim Hyun-wook [email@example.com]