Advertise on NYTimes.com 3 Boats Held by Gunmen, China Says

19 Jun

BEIJING — The Chinese state news media said Thursday that North Korean gunmen plying the Yellow Sea had seized three Chinese fishing boats with 29 sMany of the details remained murky. The Beijing News said the boats were intercepted on May 8 in waters between China and North Korea. The report quoted one of the ships’ owners, Zhang Dechang, as saying that he had spoken by phone to a kidnapped sailor and that the captors were demanding about $189,000. Later reports said that had been reduced to about $142,000.

Another newspaper, The Global Times, quoted Mr. Zhang as saying that the attackers had brandished weapons and that the Chinese sailors had not resisted. “The captured fishermen have been locked in a small house, with no food to eat,” he said.

There were conflicting accounts about where the fishing boats originated. Most said they were from the city of Dalian in the northeast, but on Thursday an engineer from the Wenzhou Engineering Survey Institute, in the southern province of Zhejiang, sent messages on Twitter and on China’s Sina Weibo microblog service saying the boats were from his institute and asking the public to pressure Beijing to take action.

“I have two appeals,” the engineer, Lu Zichuan, wrote. “First, release our people safely, this is most important; second, release the boats.”

It was not clear whether the gunmen were connected with the North Korean government or were rogue mariners. At a briefing on Thursday, Hong Lei, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, declined to discuss details but said officials were in touch with their North Korean counterparts. “We hope this problem will be appropriately solved as soon as possible,” he said.

There was no immediate comment from North Korea.

The episode threatened to aggravate relations between North Korea and China, a critical source of aid for the impoverished North and one of its few remaining allies. The alliance has been strained by the bellicosity of the North and its threat to test a third nuclear device despite international condemnation and United Nations sanctions.

The timing was also inopportune for China, which faces a nettlesome array of maritime challenges, including a recent flare-up of territorial disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam and Japan. In recent months, there have also been violent clashes between Chinese fishermen and the South Korean Coast Guard. ailors aboard and were demanding a ransom for their release.

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