China’s caixin.com reports that on May 8, four Chinese fishing boats were held by unidentified armed North Koreans, some in uniform but others in plain clothes. One of the boats was released, but three of them, including twenty-nine crew, remained in custody. The North Koreans have demanded a ransom of RMB1.2 million (US$190,000). Owners of the boats have asked the Chinese government for help.
The Office of Foreign Affairs Ministry Spokesman said on May 16 that according to the information available so far, the seizure of fishing boats must be a fishing incident. The Chinese side is further verifying the information and keeping close contacts with the North Korean side and will strive to enable the issue to be satisfactorily resolved as soon as possible in order to ensure Chinese citizen’s safety and lawful rights.
According to Yang Hongbin, one of the owners of the boats, at that time their fleet was fishing at 123057’E in the Chinese side to the west of the border line 1240E. Two North Korean boats with “No. 189” and “28th Department” marked in Korean suddenly crossed the borderline and seized the four fishing boats. As the Koreans were armed with guns, the fishermen did not dare to resist.
The next day, Zhang Dechang, one of the boat owners received a phone call from the captain of his boat. The number displayed on the phone proved that it was a satellite phone provided by the Koreans. Zhang told the reporter that the Koreans said that they would not release the boats unless the Chinese owners had paid the ransom of RMB400,000 (US$63.300) per boat. They provided relevant boat owners with a Chinese mobile phone number for the Chinese to make contact for payment of the ransom. After that an unidentified person kept on calling the boat owners by mobile phone, but each time with a different phone number. He told the owners that there was room for bargaining with regard to the amount of the ransom.
Since the incident occurred, the boat owners have reported to Dandong Marine Police and contacted Liaoning provincial departments of fishery and external affairs, the headquarters of Shenyang Armed Police, etc. Sources say that each fishing boat has been provided with Beidou GPS service with on-line connection to the government surveillance department. It will be notified as soon as it is found to have crossed the border.
According to marine police’s initial analysis of the information, none of the three boats has crossed the border at the time of the incident. However, as the boats have already been brought into Korean territory, whether the boats had crossed border depends on their position at the moment of contact between their boats and the Korean boats. If at that moment, Chinese boats were still located to the west of the marine border, it shall be determined that the Chinese boats were in Chinese territory at the time of the incident. Verification is still under way. The reporter has not been able to contact N. Korean embassy in China to know its opinion.
The captain said that his crew of 10 were locked in a cabin of 4 square meters unable to rest and supplied with poor inadequate food.
On May 13, Zhang, one of the boat owners, received a phone call from the captain telling him that the ransom had been reduced to RMB300,000 (US$47,470) and that very day was set as the deadline for the payment. The boat owner had to go in person to Dandong Fishing Port to look for a person named Song to make the payment.
The last time he was contacted by the captain was on May 15. The captain passed him the Koreans’ demand saying that payment of the ransom should be made in two days. Otherwise the Koreans would dispose of the boat along with its crew. Zhang said, “What did they mean by the word ‘dispose’? There are lots of ways of disposal. It worries us so much.” At present, the boat owners’ greatest worry is the crews’ safety. The relatives of the crews are pressing the owners for their release. The owners’ second worry is their economic loss. Under normal conditions of operation, they suffer a loss of RMB20,000 to 30,000 (US$3,165 to 4,747) gross profit per boat per day
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