December 23, 2001 16:02
The Japanese Coast Guard announced Sunday that a suspicious fishing vessel, which appeared to be a North Korean spy ship, was sunk in the East China Sea after an exchange of fire with patrol boats. The suspect ship entered Japan's Exclusive Economic Zone and after failing to heed calls to halt and warning shots exchanged fire with patrol boats before sinking. The JCG said that two of three bodies recovered were wearing life vests with Korean characters on them. Officials were unsure whether the patrol boats sank the ship, or the crew of 15 scuttled it.
The ship was intercepted at 4:30pm Friday, 150km west of Amami Oshima and proceeded through Japan's EEZ heading towards China's EEZ before sinking, 390km northwest of the island at 10:13pm Saturday, following a 30 hour chase. The JCG said its first boat approached the ship at 1:12pm and ordered it to stop, however, the vessel refused and so around 2:36pm the Japanese craft fired 25 warning shots in the air. The vessel continued evasive movements and so at 4:00pm more warning shots were fired across its bows, before direct fire of 20mm cannons was directed at it at 4:16pm.
Officials noted that the ship appeared like a trawler, but carried no fishing gear and was decked with antenna and listening gear. In addition Chinese characters were painted on its hull to disguise its origin.
This is the first time since its creation that the JCG has fired its guns in anger at another vessel, and officials say the action was a justified one of self-defense. In September 1999 the force was criticized for failing to stop a similar incursion of a North Korean spy ship.
(From Tokyo, Kwon Dae-yul, email@example.com)
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