TOKYO (AFP) - Three people were dead and five missing on Friday in a fishing boat fire in waters near islands at the centre of a dispute between Tokyo and Beijing, Japan's coastguard said.
"We have been informed by South Korean officials that three people died and five are missing from a South Korean fisheries ship that caught fire in waters near Uotsuri island," a spokesman said, referring to an island in the East China Sea.
A coastguard patrol plane "discovered part of a boat that is believed to be the South Korean vessel at 8:24 am local time," the Japanese coastguard said in a statement, adding it was continuing the search for the missing crew members.
The incident was first discovered by a South Korean vessel in waters some 100 nautical miles north of Uotsuri, the largest island in the Tokyo-controlled Senkaku chain, claimed by Beijing as the Diaoyus.
The coastguard said the ship had nine crew members aboard, comprising seven South Korean nationals and two Chinese nationals, it said.
The other South Korean vessel had recovered four of the nine crew, of whom three were already dead, it said.
The Japanese coastguard, after receiving the initial report from South Korea's coastguard, sent a patrol plane and two patrol boats to the area.
"We don't know yet the nationalities of the dead and missing," the spokesman said.