Analysts urged the Chinese government to continue working with Pyongyang to investigate the recent abduction of Chinese fishermen, after North Korea said Sunday that it had released all the 29 Chinese crewmen and their three boats.
Counselor Jiang Yaxian with the Chinese embassy in Pyongyang told the Xinhua News Agency that North Korea's foreign ministry had notified the embassy of the release.
"The vessels and the crews are on their way back home," Jiang said.
Upon hearing the news, residents in Xingshutun town of Dalian, Liaoning Province, hometown of the three boats, told the Global Times that they were very excited.
"We did not sleep at all in the past 40 hours. We have been trying to contact our crew through any means we could after North Korea said Friday that some of the fishermen had been released," Sun Caihui, owner of Liaodanyu 23979, one of the seized boats, told the Global Times.
"If the crewmen are given enough fuel and communication and navigation devices, they will surely be detected three hours after they leave the North Korean coast," he added.
On Friday, citing North Korean authorities, Jiang said the fishing crews were in "sound health with sufficient food and healthcare," and that "some of the detained vessels and crew members are already coming back to China."
"I'm sill worried about the condition of the fishermen," Zhang Dechang, owner of the hijacked Liaodanyu 23536 fishing boat, told the Global Times. "My ship's captain, Han Qiang, told me during our last contact Tuesday that they had not been offered any food since their detention on May 8."
According to Zhang, under normal conditions, the crew should be able to reach their home harbor in 16 hours after leaving the North Korean coast.
"On Friday, we informed all the fishing boats working in areas close to North Korean waters to help our crew, but have so far failed to spot any one of them," Zhang said.
Lü Chao, director of the Korean Research Center at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times Sunday that further investigation into the abductors should not be ended even if the 29 Chinese fishermen return home safely.
"The kidnappers should be held responsible and receive punishments if the investigation shows the Chinese crewmen were trawling legally, serving as a warning to anyone who wants to copy such abductions in the future," Lü said.
An official from the local fishery and fishing harbor administration told the Global Times that after the incident, hundreds of Chinese fishing boats working in waters near where the incident occurred had been ordered to retreat about 80 kilometers to the west.
"The three boats were seized by armed North Koreans one after another on May 8. We fear those abductors will commit similar assaults in the future," the official said on condition of anonymity.
According to locals, there have been cases of North Korean coast guards seizing Chinese fishing boats from Dandong, a city north of Dalian, bordering North Korea.
"The North Korean coast guards took almost everything, even pencils and clothes. They also pumped the fuel out of seized boats, leaving just enough for the journey home," a local boat owner said. The captors' identities remain unknown.
Lü said that by taking this chance, China should express its solemn stance on protecting Chinese fishermen's legal rights and strengthening communication with the North Korean government.
"The region is still dominated by fishing, even though the number of trawling boats has exceeded the limit the waters can accommodate. It's crucial for fishery and maritime police authorities from the two sides to enhance cooperation under such circumstances," Lü noted.
Xinhua contributed to this story