Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership
PRC state media reports that the Chinese government “is in close contact” with the DPRK on the status of 29 fishermen seized earlier this month in the Yellow (West) Sea. On 8 May, three fishing vessels and 29 crew members were captured 158 km (98 miles) southwest of the DPRK city of Namp’o. It is not clear if the crew were captured by members of the Korean People’s Army’s [KPA] Navy, DPRK personnel operating commercial vessels or, as Global Times reports, a group of Chinese and DPRK nationals. Xinhua English reports:
“China is maintaining close communication with the DPRK side through relative channels in order to appropriately address the issue as soon as possible,” Hong said during a daily news briefing.
“The Chinese side has demanded that the DPRK side ensure the safety and legitimate rights of the Chinese crew members,” he added.
Media reports have stated that three vessels and their crews were seized by the DPRK on May 8.
A number of media outlets recently reported that three Chinese fishing vessels were seized on May 8 at 38.05 degrees north and 123.57 degrees east within Chinese waters and the 29 crew members onboard were being kept hostage by a group of North Koreans.
The reports also state that the North Korean captors asked the abducted Chinese fishermen to call their families and tell them to pay ransom amounts in order for them to be released.
According to media reports, one fisherman who narrowly escaped being abducted, reported the incident to local maritime police in the city of Dalian, Dandong, and the fishing patrol forces in the provincial capital of Shenyang, immediately following his escape.
On the morning of last Wednesday, an abducted crew member apparently made a phone call using an unidentifiable number, claiming that the captors were requesting ransom amounts in return for the release of the Chinese fishermen.
The captors have asked for payment by Thursday for the release of the men and boats, the newspaper reported.
China’s foreign ministry said it was in touch with North Korean authorities and hoped to resolve the situation soon.
“We urged the North Korean side to guarantee the legal rights of the Chinese fishermen,” the ministry’s spokesman Hong Lei said.
He refused to confirm if the payment being demanded was a ransom, said an Associated Press report.
It is not clear if the boats were seized by North Korean authorities or kidnappers as some reports have suggested.
Pyongyang has not commented on the incident.
The owners of the boats have been reported as saying that the men were fishing in Chinese waters when the incident took place.
One of the owners, Zhang Dechang, told the Beijing News that the captors initially demanded payment of 1.2 million yuan (£119,300, $189,800) for the return of the men and boats, now reportedly in North Korea.
The captors then reportedly reduced their demand to 900,000 yuan.
Mr Zhang said that the captors included both North Koreans and Chinese, according to a Global Times report.
”They had guns; no one resisted. The captured fishermen have been locked in a small house, with no food to eat,” he was quoted as saying in the report.
China is North Korea’s closest ally. But the waters of the Yellow Sea, home to rich marine life, have seen clashes in the past between vessels from China and the two Koreas.