Three Chinese vessels pursue Japanese fishing boat near Senkakus

February 21, 2013

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

The captain of a Japanese fishing boat said three Chinese government vessels chased it through Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands on Feb. 18.

"I never dreamed they would do something so outrageous," Zensho Naka, 54, captain of the No. 11 Zenko Maru, said.

The Japan Coast Guard has confirmed that three Chinese vessels approached the fishing boat in the East China Sea, but it has not determined whether the approaches constituted pursuit.

According to coast guard officials, three of China's Hai Jian marine surveillance vessels entered the contiguous zone outside Japan's waters to the north-northwest of Uotsurishima island, the largest of the Senkakus, late on the night of Feb. 17.

On the morning of Feb. 18, the three vessels made successive intrusions into Japan's territorial waters east of Uotsurishima.

They then approached the nine-ton Zenko Maru, which was navigating Japan's waters, the officials said. In addition to crew members, the boat was carrying a reporter and a cameraman from a Czech TV station, as well as an interpreter.

Japanese patrol vessels nearby confirmed the approach and kept a close watch for a collision or other accidents.

One of the Chinese vessels, the Hai Jian 66, navigated all the way around Uotsurishima, while the Hai Jian 50 vessel came as close as about 1 kilometer to the island.

The three vessels, which also included the Hai Jian 46, then crisscrossed around the waters east of the Minami-Kojima island.

"We were not sure what China intended to do," said a senior Japan Coast Guard official. "All we can do is simply deal with vessels that enter Japan's territorial waters as calmly as we have done."

Zensho Naka and his brother Hidemitsu, 49, told The Asahi Shimbun on Feb. 20 that the Chinese vessels had chased them.

According to the brothers, the fishing boat departed from the Ishigaki port on the night of Feb. 17 and arrived in waters near Uotsurishima island early on Feb. 18.

It was pitch-dark, they said.

They had notified the Japan Coast Guard of their plans in advance, so its patrol ship followed the Zenko Maru from the time of its departure.

In an hour, they saw the sun rising over choppy waves as a strong wind blew.

They had planned to return to port earlier, passing south of Kita-Kojima and Minami-Kojima islands after sailing around Uotsurishima island.

But a little past 8 a.m., the Zenko Maru received radio contact from the Japan Coast Guard.

"Chinese vessels are approaching," it said. "Return home between Uotsurishima and Kita-Kojima islands as fast as possible."

Kita-Kojima island is located 5 kilometers east-southeast of Uotsurishima.

The Zenko Maru proceeded as instructed, but the strong wind hampered it from picking up speed.

When two Chinese vessels appeared to the south of Minami-Kojima island, the Zenko Maru received further instruction to stay to the north of Kita-Kojima.

Seven Japan Coast Guard patrol vessels were near the fishing boat.

Under normal circumstances, the Japan Coast Guard always tells boats not to get close to the Senkakus. But on this occasion, it told the Zenko Maru, "You can approach the island."

While waiting to the north of Kita-Kojima around 9:30 a.m., another Chinese vessel came toward the fishing boat from the east side of the island.

Coming close to being sandwiched between vessels from the east and south, the Zenko Maru followed the instructions of the Japan Coast Guard and passed the east side of Kita-Kojima and Minami-Kojima islands to escape to Ishigakijima island.

A Chinese surveillance vessel traced the fishing boat, however, and once one vessel disappeared from sight, another appeared and began pursuit, according to the fishing captain and his brother.

At one point, a Chinese vessel approached to within about 60 meters of the fishing boat, and one of Japan's patrol ships, the Akaishi, cut in between them, they said.

After a pursuit of one and a half hours, the Chinese vessels disappeared from view as the Zenko Maru exited the Japanese waters around the Senkakus at a little past 11 a.m.

Zensho Naka said the Chinese vessel that had pursued the boat to the last was marked "66."

Tomas Etzler, the reporter on board the Zenko Maru, commented about the event on Twitter on Feb. 18, saying, "Chinese and Japanese ships sniffing each other at Senkaku/Diaoyu today. CN tried to chase us away. Got escort of 4 JPN coastguard ships."

He also said he saw only two Chinese vessels, though there are said to have been three vessels present.

The Zenko Maru finally returned to Ishigaki port around 7 p.m. on Feb. 18. A Japan Coast Guard officer who visited them warned, "Do not go near the Senkakus unless you really have to."

The Naka brothers have often sailed around the Senkaku Islands with news reporters onboard. But this was the first time for them to see Chinese government vessels near the Senakaku Islands, they said.

"We cannot approach the Senkakus for the time being," one of the brothers said.

Japan Coast Guard patrol vessels usually block the path of foreign fishing boats trying to enter Japan's territorial waters illegally and warn them to leave. Coast guard officers also sometimes board such boats to inspect them.

China has insisted that the waters around the Senkaku Islands are Chinese territory, so the three government vessels might have been attempting to crack down on what they saw as a Japanese fishing boat navigating "China's waters illegally."

The three vessels left Japan's territorial waters after staying there for around four hours. This year, Chinese government vessels have intruded into Japan's waters on a total of eight days.

(This article was written by Ryuji Kudo and Tsukasa Kimura.)

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