3 Chinese die after fleeing Coast Guard
“We are questioning the fishermen who were rescued from the boat to find out what exactly caused the fire,” said the Korea Coast Guard Mokpo branch in South Jeolla on Friday.
The 102-ton vessel caught fire while at sea at around 9:45 a.m. on Thursday, 70 kilometers (43 miles) southwest of Hong Island of Sinan County, South Jeolla, according to the Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard said it warned the Chinese fishing vessel three times on Thursday to stop the boat to receive inspections, since it was fishing in Korean waters. Fishing in Korean waters is allowed for foreign vessels with Korean government-issued permits, and they are kept under regulations to prevent overfishing. When the boat continued to sail away at 8 knots per hour (9 miles per hour), members of the Coast Guard stepped onto the boat to inspect them.
At this point, the Coast Guard broke the windows to the steering house and threw in three flash grenades -- commonly carried by Coast Guards during maritime inspections.
The Korea Coast Guard said that it used flash grenades before to battle illegal fishing by Chinese vessels but never saw a vessel catch onto fire after their use.
After the fire broke out and the fishermen exited the locked rooms, the Coast Guard sprayed pressurized water cannons at the boat and rescued 14 of the 17 fishermen on board, but found three lying unconscious inside the engine room around 12 p.m.
The Coast Guard moved all the Chinese crew onto their vessel and treated the three unconscious with CPR, but they were pronounced dead by a Korean doctor on board around 3:46 p.m. The Coast Guard vessel arrived at Mokpo on Friday. The bodies were transported to a funeral home in the city.
In addition to questioning the rescued fishermen, authorities will request an autopsy of the three dead Chinese fishermen to determine their exact cause of death. They were also to investigate the Chinese vessel once it arrived at Mokpo later on Friday afternoon.
The Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China in Gwangju visited the Korea Coast Guard Mokpo branch office on Thursday to request a thorough investigation.
“The Coast Guard notified Chinese authorities of the incident, letting them know that the Chinese vessel was fishing illegally in Korea’s EEZ,” said a Coast Guard official, who confirmed that the Chinese vessel was fishing without a permit. “The Chinese authorities requested a thorough investigation, but did not issue any complaints otherwise.”
“We were scared of the Coast Guard, so we ran into the steering house and locked the door,” the captain of the Chinese fishing boat, a 41-year-old man surnamed Yang, told reporters on Friday. “I thought that the Coast Guard may decide through their inspection of the boat that we do not meet a lot of their regulations and may stop us from fishing here.”
He added, “Plus, I heard that you have to pay a ton in fines if you get caught by the Coast Guard, and so that’s why we tried to run away from them.”
Yet the captain denied having knowingly fished illegally in the EEZ.
“I have a fishing permit that I bought, and so I think we were fishing legally,” Yang said.
Yang bought a fishing permit issued by the Korean government for another Chinese vessel. Selling and trading fishing permits between Chinese vessels is banned by local laws.
“I’d like to receive an investigation by the Chinese government,” Yang said. “Since Chinese citizens died in the incident, I’d like to speak to a Chinese authority.”
Korean authorities booked the 14 Chinese fishermen for fishing illegally and refusing to obey requests made by the Coast Guard to stop the boat and receive inspections. Authorities may charge them additionally for arson or neglecting a fire hazard if they find evidence of this through their questioning and on-site investigation of the boat.
BY KIM HO, ESTHER CHUNG [firstname.lastname@example.org]