Three Chinese fishing boats that were seized by a small North Korean Navy boat on the West Sea on May 8 returned to Dalian Port at around 7 a.m. on Monday. The fishermen were given a health check immediately after they arrived. Three complained of extreme dizziness, and three others showed clear signs of external injuries, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.
Twenty eight Chinese fishermen had been abducted, not 29 as reported earlier.
The owners of the Chinese fishing boats said the crew were taken to the coast of North Hwanghae Province in North Korea. They were kept in a dark room all day and given just two bowls of gruel a day. They were beaten with sticks or metal rods if they failed to obey orders, and the food and supplies in their ships were plundered. Just before they were released, the captors erased the navigational records on the GPS devices on the fishing boats, the fishermen said.
On Sunday the North Korean Foreign Ministry said the fishermen were returned with no strings attached. Initially, the captors had demanded a ransom of 90,000 yuan (around W160 million) per vessel.
"That was something that should not happen between the two countries. We understand the complaints of the Chinese people," a North Korean official was quoted as saying by China's Global Times.
The GPS navigational records of another Chinese fishing boat that was seized but managed to return after paying a ransom apparently played a key role in getting the North Koreans to release the other boats. According to the records, the boat had been fishing west of the maritime border between China and North Korea, meaning the captors had crossed into Chinese waters to seize the fishing boats and to hold them to ransom, which is tantamount to piracy.
"North Korean troops largely need to survive on their own these days, and some impoverished units may have gone too far in their attempt to earn cash," said a Unification Ministry official here.
North Korea normally allows Chinese trawlers to fish in its waters if they pay for a license. A Chinese firm has a deal to issue licenses with a company under the North Korean military. Last year, around 700 to 800 licensed Chinese fishing boats caught squid for several months in North Korean parts of the East Sea.
But there have also been clashes between North Korean Navy and Chinese fishing trawlers that were operating in North Korean maritime space without licenses. China had kept a lid on the incidents for fear of hurting relations with North Korea.
This time it decided to make the hijacking public because the GPS records showed that the boats did not cross over into North Korean waters.
The Global Times wrote in an editorial, China should no longer tolerate "any misbehavior by North Korea, and North Korea should respect China's every concrete interest, especially the lives and property of Chinese citizens."