Read more in daily special: China-N.Korea standoff continues over seized fishing boat
The Chinese foreign ministry has confirmed that all 16 Chinese fishermen detained by armed North Koreans since May 5 were released Tuesday morning without a ransom being paid. The fishermen have said they will continue fishing at sea in a bid to make up for the financial losses incurred during the kidnapping.
Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Tuesday that the "crew was safe and the owner did not pay the so-called penalty." Yu Xuejun, owner of the hijacked Liaoning Generic Fishing No. 25222, from Dalian in Liaoning Province, told the Global Times that the kidnapping had caused a great deal of financial losses. He said the boat has joined other Chinese fishing vessels to continue fishing at sea before the fishing season ends in June.
"Five tons of diesel oil and six barrels of engine oil worth 50,000 yuan ($8,076) were taken by North Koreans, and we didn't tally up small losses such as daily commodities. The crews were allowed to walk on the deck during the day, but had to stay in their cabins at night," said Yu.
"I got several calls from a North Korean translator demanding a ransom. He spoke in broken Chinese but he clearly asked for money," Yu said. Yu was asked to pay 600,000 yuan as a "penalty" but he insisted on turning to the Chinese government for help rather than solving the problem privately.
The past few days have been a daze, Yu said, adding it never occurred to him that the release could come so soon after news of the detention went viral on Weibo.
There are currently at least a dozen Chinese fishing vessels working near the sea border between China and North Korea. Some venture across the border for economic gains, but most are concerned they would face a similar fate even when sailing in Chinese waters.
Last May, some 29 fishermen from Liaoning were forcibly abducted by unidentified North Koreans while trawling, and were later released after mediation by the Chinese government. Crew members on Zhang Dechang's boat, one of the three vessels kidnapped last May, were beaten so severely by armed North Koreans that all eight of them quit fishing upon their release.
"They beat my captain and broke his leg. All crew members were stripped of their clothes and shoes. They took away all our fishing equipment, oil and daily commodities worth more than 1.2 million yuan before they released us," Zhang told the Global Times, adding that he is still waiting for compensation.
Efforts from multiple parties have contributed to the most recent release, Hong said, adding that the Chinese side has demanded the North launch an investigation into the case, and take actions to prevent similar incidents from happening again.
Public outcry over the incident and resentment toward North Korea mounted to fever pitch after the confirmation of the kidnap.
Jin Qiangyi, director of the Asian Research Center with China's Yanbian University, said "the Chinese government needs to be more transparent about conflicts with North Korea. Punishment should be made to those who infringe on China's rights and interests, since compromise will only lead to similar violations in the future," Jin told the Global Times.