Chinese fishing boat crew freed by Japan

After more than 24 hours in custody after being detained on charges of illegal fishing in Japanese territorial waters, Japan on Sunday released the captain and crew of a Chinese fishing boat  that had been caught poaching coral inside Japanese territorial waters..

The 100-ton coral fishing boat with a crew of 13 was stopped on Saturday by a Japanese Coast Guard patrol in waters some 45 kilometers northeast of Miyako island in the southern Okinawan chain. The skipper and all his crew were released after the Chinese consulate general in Fukuoka submitted a bail guarantee, Xinhua news agency said, quoting the consulate general.  The fishing boat and all its crew departed Miyako for China late on Sunday.

The Japanese coast guard says that the captain had been arrested on suspicion of operating in the exclusive maritime zone without permission from Japan. The incident occurred during a months-long dispute over the Tokyo-administered Senkaku islands, which China also calls the Diaoyus and claims sovereignty over.

Miyako is about 210 kilometers off the biggest Senkaku isle.  The arrest was made on the same day that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe toured the southern region of Okinawa near the disputed islands in the East China Sea, where he vowed to defend Japan against “provocations.”

It was the first time that the captain of a Chinese fishing boat was detained in waters in the Okinawa region since September 2010 when Japan arrested a Chinese trawler captain after he rammed his vessel against two coast guard patrol boats in waters around the disputed islands.  That arrest sparked off a fierce diplomatic protest from Beijing, and Tokyo released the captain weeks later without prosecuting him.