Crews held by N.Koreans return home

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 May, 2012, 12:00am


Three Chinese fishing crews held for ransom by North Koreans for almost two weeks returned to their home port of Dalian, Liaoning, yesterday, ending a tense diplomatic crisis.

All 28 fishermen captured were released, the website of the Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily said.

Previous media reports had stated 29 Chinese fishermen had been captured but in fact one had left his vessel because of sea sickness shortly before the ships ran into three North Korean gunships in the Yellow Sea on May 8. State media said the central government had been unaware of his departure due to a lack of radio contact with the boats after their capture.

Sun Caihui , the owner of one of the boats, said yesterday all missing crew had returned and were receiving medical treatment after enduring almost two weeks of confinement, starvation and mental and physical abuse in North Korea.

He was deeply shocked by his crew's brutal mistreatment.

The entire crew had been confined inside a garbage compartment and told to rot with the fish until their relatives paid a ransom of 400,000 yuan (HK$488,902), Sun said.

'They ate, slept and had to relieve themselves in a dark room filled with rotten, dead fish,' he said. 'It would be difficult enough for a single person to spend a day in such an environment. I cannot imagine what my best shipmates had to cope with in order to survive over 13 days.'

The North Koreans increased the frequency of beatings as time dragged on, and some fishermen had suffered so much physical abuse in recent days that they had to be kept in hospital despite being desperately keen to go home, Sun said. People's Daily Online said three fishermen needed to remain in hospital due to the effects of physical abuse.

'My crew were on the verge of mental collapse when they set foot on Chinese soil, and so were their anxious families,' Sun said. 'Similar incident have happened many times before and some nice folk have been killed because of the failure to pay ransom in time.

'This is the first time that people have come back 'free of charge', and I think the Chinese government has never worked so hard as it did this time to save its fishermen from the notorious North Koreans.'

All three boats had suffered huge losses and it would take a long time to make them seaworthy again as the North Koreans had removed almost everything of value on board, Sun said. He claimed his boat had suffered 700,000 yuan worth of damage, losing items such as nets and fuel.

'The North Koreans seem much more greedy than the worst pirates,' he said. 'They stole every possession from my crew, including underpants. The only item that was left intact was our radio, without which the crew could not find their way home.'

The Foreign Ministry confirmed the boats were missing on Thursday, more than a week after their owners reported their capture.

The desperate owners and the families of crew members, let down by government inaction, sought help on the internet, releasing information about the missing boats on Sina Weibo, the microblogging platform.

That sparked public demands for action, coinciding with calls for a more aggressive response to maritime conflicts with other countries following the long-running stand-off between China and the Philippines at Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.

The central government said last week it had demanded the North Korean government ensure the Chinese crews' safety and legal rights.

North Korea announced the release of all captives on Sunday.