Three Chinese fishermen were killed on Thursday in a fire that broke out on their boat when South Korean coast guard men trying to apprehend them for illegal fishing threw flash grenades into a room they were hiding in, says a South Korean official.
The three men were believed to have suffocated, a coast guard official in the South Korean port city of Mokpo said, adding that the incident was being investigated, Reuters reports.
Disputes over illegal fishing are an irritant in relations between China and South Korea, an ally of the United States, even as their economic relations grow close.
They also share concern about North Korea’s nuclear weapon and missile programs.
The fire broke out in the boat’s steering room, the official told Reuters by telephone.
A Chinese embassy official in Seoul could not be reached for comment and China’s foreign ministry in Beijing did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
South Korean authorities were questioning the 14 surviving crew and coast guard members involved in the operation, the official added.
South Korean coast guard vessels regularly chase Chinese boats for fishing illegally and violent confrontations have occurred in the past.
The Chinese boat, caught fishing in waters off the southwest of the peninsula, about 70 km (43 miles) southwest of Hondo Island, would be brought in to a South Korean port later on Friday, the official said.
In June, South Korea and the United Nations Command, which overseas the Korean War armistice, launched a joint operation to keep Chinese fishing vessels from operating illegally off South Korea’s west coast.
That came after South Korean fishermen, frustrated with incursions by Chinese boats in defiance of coast guard warnings, impounded two Chinese trawlers and handed them over to authorities.
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