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Strange tale from East China Sea
...Just another postscript from the strange and irrational
regime in Pyongyang??
Suspected N. Korean ship sinks, 15 crew members missing
TOKYO, Dec. 23, Kyodo -
An unidentified ship being pursued by the Japan Coast Guard in the East
China Sea for infringing in Japan's exclusive economic zone sank Saturday
night after being fired on by two coast guard patrol vessels near
Amami-Oshima Island, coast guard officials said.
After a final shoot-out between coast guard officials and the ship's crew
that took place in waters included in China's 320-kilometer exclusive
economic zone, the 100-ton vessel foundered at 10:13 p.m. some 390 km
west-northwest of the island in Kagoshima Prefecture, throwing about 15 crew
members into the sea.
Two Japanese coast guard members aboard the patrol vessel Amami were injured
in the shoot-out, with both Yoshiharu Nagatomo, a 54-year-old mate from
Miyazaki Prefecture, and Yoshitake Kinjo, the 49-year-old chief navigator
from Okinawa Prefecture sustaining wounds to their left arms.
Their injuries are not life-threatening, they said, and both men are being
airlifted to a hospital in Kagoshima Prefecture, where they are expected to
arrive shortly after 3 a.m. Sunday.
The coast guard said there is a high possibility the ship may have been a
North Korean spy ship judging from the boat's appearance. The coast guard
pursued the ship for most of the day.
The Japanese patrol vessels were ordered not to approach the sunken ship's
15 crew members, who were clinging to life buoys in the 18.4 C water, for
fear they were armed, according to the officials.
The whereabouts of the 15 were not immediately known, they added.
Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said early Sunday, ''The cause of
the suspicious ship's sinking remains unknown. It is possible the crew
members themselves sank the ship deliberately.''
The shoot-out began when two people on the ship's deck who were concealed
under a blanket suddenly opened fire on the patrol vessels with automatic
weapons, the coast guard officials said, adding the patrol boats returned
fire in self-defense.
The rogue ship, which ignored orders to halt despite a round of warning
shots fired by coast guard vessels, continued its flight even after it
caught on fire at 5:24 p.m. after being hit by several bullets.
It stopped fleeing around 6:50 p.m., however, when it was surrounded by four
patrol vessels some 400 km west-northwest of Amami-Oshima Island, southwest
of Japan's southernmost main island of Kyushu. Two of the four Japanese
patrol vessels then anchored next to the unidentified vessel, the coast
guard officials said.
In total, 13 rounds of warning shots were fired by the patrol vessels Inasa
and Mizuki, using 20-millimeter machine guns, the officials said.
At one point during the pursuit, about 10 people aboard the unidentified
ship appeared on the ship's deck, and several of them brandished steel pipes
in an apparent gesture of resistance, the coast guard said.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi ordered the coast guard members involved in
the chase to persevere, government officials said.
About 20 patrol vessels were dispatched to deal with the situation, and the
coast guard established a task force headed by its director general, they
The coast guard opted to pursue the ship even though it did not enter
Japanese territorial waters because there were similarities between it and
other suspicious ships detected in the past near the Japanese archipelago,
the officials said.
The ship was initially spotted by a Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) P3C
reconnaissance plane at 4 p.m. Friday in the East China Sea about 150 km
north-northwest of Amami-Oshima Island.
The ship was later spotted by a coast guard plane about 240 km northwest of
the island at 6:20 a.m. on Saturday. The ship appears to be a fishing boat,
though it is not carrying fishing gear, according to the officials.
Two Chinese characters and a four-digit number, 3705, can be seen on the
port side of the ship, they said.
The MSDF also sent vessels, including an Aegis destroyer, to monitor the
situation and investigative authorities, including the National Police
Agency, are cooperating with related organizations to collect information.
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