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Chinese fishing crew released: Ship captain held by Japanese in collisions with Coast Guard

Date Posted: 2010-09-16

The captain of a Chinese fishing trawler who entered Japanese territorial waters near the disputed Senkaku Islands more than a week ago, then rammed two Japanese Coast Guard patrol boats as he attempted to flee, remains under arrest and in Japanese custody, while the 14 crew members and the fishing boat itself have been returned to China.

The crewmen were interrogated by Japanese officials as witnesses, then put aboard a plane from Ishigaki to Naha, and then on a Chinese aircraft for a return flight to the southeastern port city of Fuzhou. The crew was released one day after China began ratcheting up the diplomatic pressure, first summoning the Japanese Ambassador to Beijin in the middle of the night Sunday, the fourth time diplomatic authorities summoned him since the incident happened September 7th. China then encouraged Tokyo to “make a wise political resolution” to the matter by releasing the fishermen and the vessel. It is very rare for a senior Chinese official to summon a foreign ambassador on a holiday, particularly in the pre-dawn hours.

Japanese prosecutors are charging Zhan Qixiong, the fishing boat’s captain, of deliberately hitting a Japanese patrol board near the islands, then obstruction officials from performing their duties. The 41-year-old captain and his crew are also suspected of illegally fishing in Japanese territorial waters.

Chinese retaliation for the Japanese handling of the incident has been in the form of postponing talks on signing a treaty for joint gas field development in the East China Sea. The meetings were to have begun in Beijing within the week.

The incident began when the Japanese Coast Guard Yonakuni tried to detain the Chinese fishing boat to inspect for illegal fishing, and was rammed. The incident escalated less than an hour later when the fishing trawler rammed the Mizuki, another patrol ship that was chasing it.

The Senkaku Islands are considered Japanese territorial waters belonging to Ishigaki, Okinawa Prefecture, but both China and Taiwan have also laid claim to them. China calls the islands Diaoyu. Taiwan this week sent a boat with two activists aboard toward the disputed islands on Tuesday, approaching within 41 kilometers of the islands before being turned away by the Japan Coast Guard. The boat was carrying a banner proclaiming Taiwan’s sovereignty over the islands, which it calls Tiaoyutai.. The Taiwan civic group claims responsibility for the foray.

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