Asia-Pacific

South Korea frees Chinese fishermen after fatal clash

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South Korea has released three Chinese fishermen following a fatal clash between their trawler and a South Korean patrol ship earlier this month.

Seoul says the incident happened in the Yellow Sea as coast guards tried to prevent Chinese boats from fishing illegally off South Korea's west coast.

It said the trawler intentionally struck the patrol ship to allow others to sail back into their waters - but the boat sank after the impact.

One fisherman died in the clash.

Four South Korean coast guards were wounded as the Chinese fishermen attacked them with metal bars.

The clash triggered a diplomatic stand-off between Beijing and Seoul.

Seafood demand

The three Chinese fishermen had been freed and were now preparing to return home, the South Korean coast guard said on Saturday.

"We decided not to indict these crew as they were not actively involved in the crime at that time," a South Korean coast guard official was quoted as saying by the Yonhap news agency.

"They also fully co-operated in our investigation," said the official.

Seoul had earlier vowed to deal sternly with the fishermen.

Scores of Chinese fishing boats are captured for illegal fishing every year, South Korean officials say.

Chinese vessels appear to be going further afield to feed growing domestic demand for seafood.

In September, a confrontation between two Japanese patrol boats and a Chinese trawler in the East China Sea provoked a bitter diplomatic spat.

The latest clash comes amid heightened tension on the Korean peninsula and in the waters around it.

Last month North Korea - incensed by live-fire military exercises conducted close to its coast by the US and South Korea - shelled a South Korean island.

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