A North Korean ship seized three Chinese boats with 29 fishermen aboard and demanded more than $140,000 to release them, China’s Global Times newspaper reported today.
The fishing boats were captured at gunpoint while trawling in Chinese waters on May 8, the newspaper said, citing an owner of one of the boats, identified as Zhang Dechang. He said the captors were demanding 300,000 yuan ($47,500) to release each vessel.
China is in contact with North Korea to verify what happened and resolve the issue, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a briefing in Beijing today. A standoff could strain ties between North Korea and China, its main financial and diplomatic backer.
“China hopes to appropriately solve the issue as soon as possible and we have made it clear to North Korea that the legitimate rights of the Chinese fishermen need to be ensured,” Hong said.
The fishermen were taken to North Korean waters after they were seized, CCTV reported. Officials in the Chinese province of Dalian have gotten involved and the captors didn’t appear at an agreed-upon May 12 meeting, the Global Times said, citing a Dalian marine police squad staff officer with the last name Yu.
It wasn’t clear if the captors were with the North Korean government or “just a group of kidnappers,” the Global Times said, citing Yu. South Korea is aware of Chinese media reports about the incident, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Han Hye Jin said today in Seoul. She said it wasn’t appropriate for the government to comment.