Triads may be in on hijacking by N Koreans

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 May, 2012, 12:00am


Chinese nationals were believed to be involved in the hijacking of three mainland fishing boats by North Koreans in the Yellow Sea last week, the vessels' owners told the South China Morning Post yesterday.

Yesterday was the deadline the kidnappers set for the owners to pay 900,000 yuan (HK$1.1 million) in ransom in exchange for the release of the 29 sailors on the three boats.

But no payment was made, and the owners said the status of the sailors remained unknown yesterday, as the owners had not been in contact with the hostage takers or sailors since Tuesday.

The hijackings were reportedly carried out by two unidentified North Korean speedboats in Chinese waters of the Yellow Sea on May 8, with the boats then moved to North Korean waters, The Beijing News reported.

Zhang Dechang, owner of the Liaodan 23536 fishing boat, told the Post: 'My captain, Han Qiang , told us that some Chinese took part in the kidnapping,' and that the crew suspected triad involvement. Zhang said he spoke to Han by satellite telephone.

Sun Caihui, owner of the Liaodan 23979 boat, told the Post that the owners received several calls from the North Korean kidnappers to discuss ransom, and the calls were from Chinese mobile numbers.

'They are quite skilful, as they used different numbers to call us every time,' Sun said. 'We suspect some Chinese with triad backgrounds were involved in it, but we don't have further evidence.'

Sun said the speedboats were similar to those of the Chinese coastguard, though he did not suggest the coastguard had any involvement.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said yesterday that Beijing was trying to resolve the situation by 'staying in close contact with North Korea'.

'The Chinese government has demanded that North Korea safeguard our sailors' rights and interests,' Hong said at a regular briefing.

The boats' owners received calls from their captains a day after the kidnappings, with the initial demand 400,000 yuan per boat. The ransoms were cut to 300,000 yuan per boat six days later.

Sun said yesterday: 'We don't know whether the North Koreans were military or just civilian gangsters, but my captain said they were equipped with guns. They warned that they would sell our ships if we didn't pay the ransom today.'

Each fishing boat is worth three million yuan, Sun said, and the owners were still paying off the bank loans that financed two-thirds of the boats' purchase cost.

'Relatives of the 29 fishermen have been crying to us for help, but we are facing our own problems too,' Sun said.

Both Zhang and Sun called on the Chinese authorities yesterday, via their Tencent microblogs, to rescue the 29 fishermen. The owners said they had reported the case to nine local authorities, including provincial ocean and fishery officials, the foreign affairs office and the local fishery offices in both Dalian and Dandong county in Liaoning , where the three ships originated.

'All the government offices just wanted us to wait, but we can't wait, as today is the edeadline,' Zhang wrote. 'I just have two requests [to the hostage takers]: let my sailors come home, and return my boat.'