Japan's coastguard arrested the captain of a Chinese boat on suspicion of illegal fishing in the country's exclusive economic zone yesterday, amid a festering territorial row between the two countries.
The 100-tonne coral fishing boat with a crew of 13 was stopped by a coastguard patrol in waters some 45 kilometres northeast of Miyako island, in the Okinawan chain, the Japan Coast Guard said.
The captain, identified as Xue Changlong, was arrested on suspicion of fishing in the exclusive maritime zone without permission from Japan. All of the crew members were Chinese nationals.
The incident occurred as a dispute simmers over the Diaoyu Islands, which Japan calls the Senkakus. Both nations claims sovereignty over the islands. Miyako is located about 210 kilometres off the biggest Diaoyu island.
The boat Qiong Yang Pu F8139 was first spotted by a coastguard patrol plane at 7.43am and tried to escape when the Japanese coastguard boat approached it, the coast guard said.
Coastguard officers boarded the fishing boat and stopped it soon afterwards. The 63-year-old captain was arrested at 8.53am.
"The suspect has admitted to illegal fishing," the coastguard said.
He told the officers that his boat was collecting coral in the area, NHK reported, with the public broadcaster adding that there had been growing demand for coral jewellery in China.
Unauthorised fishing in Japan's 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone can be punished by a fine of up to 10 million yen (HK$836,000) under Japanese law.
The captain was taken to Miyako by a coastguard boat and the 12 other crew members reached the island aboard the fishing boat, escorted by another patrol boat.
It is the first time that the captain of a Chinese fishing boat has been detained in waters in the Okinawa region since September 2010, when Japan arrested a Chinese trawler captain after he rammed his vessel against two JCG patrol boats in waters around the disputed islands.