Three Chinese fishermen prepared Saturday to return home after being freed from detention in South Korea, according to the Korea Coast Guard.
Their 63-ton boat overturned and sank a week ago about 72 miles off South Korea’s southwestern port city of Gunsan after slamming into a 3,000-ton South Korean Coast Guard vessel, while operating illegally in the South’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The incident left the Chinese captain of the vessel dead and a crew member missing.
The three crewmen were caught for hampering the South Korean Coast Guards’ crackdown on another Chinese trawler in the waters. Four South Korean coast guards were wounded as the Chinese fishermen attacked them with iron pipes, clubs and shovels.
The incident triggered a diplomatic stand-off between Seoul and Beijing.
The South Korean government initially vowed to deal sternly with the Chinese fishermen. They were expected to face imprisonment. But the Coast Guard backed off and decided not to indict them. Many view the decision as intended to prevent the diplomatic stand-off with China over the issue from spreading at a time when Seoul is already struggling to deal with Pyongyang’s belligerence.
“We decided not to indict these crew as they were not actively involved in the crime at that time. They also fully cooperated in our investigation,” a Coast Guard official said, requesting anonymity as he is not authorized to speak to media.