Japan arrests Chinese fishing boat skipper over coral poaching

Japan's coastguard said it arrested the captain of Chinese fishing boat Zheling Yuyun 622 (pictured) on Monday on suspicion of coral poaching after a high seas chase in the country's exclusive economic zone. -- PHOTO: AFP
Japan's coastguard said it arrested the captain of Chinese fishing boat Zheling Yuyun 622 (pictured) on Monday on suspicion of coral poaching after a high seas chase in the country's exclusive economic zone. -- PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan's coastguard said it arrested a Chinese fishing boat captain Monday on suspicion of coral poaching after a high seas chase in the country's exclusive economic zone.

The boat, the Zheling Yuyun 622, fled after ignoring an order by a Japanese patrol ship to land off one of the Ogasawara islands, some 1,000km south of Tokyo, according to Japan's coastguard.

After a 12-kilometre, 85-minute "zigzag" chase, Japanese coastguard officials boarded the fishing boat and arrested its 31-year-old captain Zeng Yong, a coastguard statement said.

The ship's dozen-member crew was suspected of poaching corals, after about 100 Chinese boats were seen the area on Sunday, it added.

Zeng was held on charges of attempting to refuse an on-board inspection by Japan's coastguard. If convicted, he could be jailed for up to six months or fined up to 300,000 yen (S$3,550) under the country's fishery law.

Japanese media reports said there has been a swell in the number of Chinese fishing boats suspected of hunting red corals - highly prized in China as jewellery - since last month in waters off the Ogasawaras, also known as the Bonin islands.

Zeng was the fourth Chinese fishing boat captain arrested near the islands this month, a Yokohama Coast Guard official said.

"We are in the process of investigating whether the captain was catching (corals) or not," he added.

The Japanese coastguard tends to chase off Chinese crews hunting corals in the area and the incidents rarely cause major friction between Tokyo and Beijing, although the countries are at loggerheads over an island chain in the East China Sea.

Earlier this month, the South Korean coastguard shot and killed the Chinese skipper of a fishing boat in a confrontation in the Yellow Sea, triggering an angry protest from Beijing.