Three Chinese Fishing Boats Held for Ransom by North Korean Gunmen
On Thursday, North Korean gunmen trolling the Yellow Sea have captured three Chinese fishing boats and a total of 29 mariners. They are demanding a ransom in return for the sailors’ release. However, many circulating reports and details remain unclear.
Some news sources state that the boats were seized on May 8th in waters between China and North Korea. The ships’ owners, Zhang Dechang, had allegedly spoken by phone to a kidnapped sailor and reported back that the hijackers were demanding about $189,000. That amount was later reduced to about $142,000.
Other reports quoted the ships’ owners as saying that the attackers had weapons, so the Chinese sailors had not resisted. He also claims that the captured fishermen have been locked in a small house, with no food to eat.
Regarding the boats’ origins, an engineer from the Wenzhou Engineering Survey Institute, in the southern province of Zhejiang, came forward to say the boats were from his institute and asked the public to pressure Beijing to take action. He wants the safe release of the Chinese men first and foremost, then the release of his vessels.
It is still clear whether the gunmen were connected with the North Korean government or were rogue mariners. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman declined to discuss details to media, but said officials were in touch with their North Korean counterparts and hopefully this issue will be solved as soon as possible. There has been no immediate comment from North Korea.
This incident threatens relations between North Korea and China, a critical source of aid for the impoverished North and one of its few remaining allies, reiterates the New York Times. The timing was also untimely for China, which faces a range of maritime challenges, including a recent outburst of territorial disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam and Japan. In recent months, there have also been violent clashes between Chinese fishermen and the South Korean Coast Guard.