• The Associated Press

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The captain of the Chinese fishing boat that collided with Japan Coast Guard patrol vessels near the disputed Senkaku Islands could stand trial in the latest bilateral territorial spat, officials said Thursday.

That likelihood increased as the coast guard handed over 41-year-old skipper Zhan Qixiong to prosecutors for further investigation to decide whether to officially charge him, coast guard spokesman Masahiro Ichijo said.

Zhan has been in custody since his arrest Wednesday, after his ship collided with two patrol boats near the uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. No one was injured, and the two Japanese vessels sustained minor damage.

Beijing reacted with swift criticism. Japanese Ambassador Uichiro Niwa has been summoned twice to see Assistant Foreign Minister Hu Zhengyue, who demanded that the Chinese vessel be released immediately. The crew, who do not have passports, are waiting on the boat.

The collisions happened in Japanese territorial waters off the northwestern coast of Kuba Island, just north of the disputed islands known as Diaoyu in Chinese. The islands, about 190 km east of Taiwan, are controlled by Japan but are also claimed by China and Taiwan.

The captain could be released in a couple of days if he acknowledges he obstructed public duties resulting in the collision and pays a fine, Ichijo said. If not, he would likely have to stand trial.

Officials also were questioning the ship’s remaining 14 crew members, who are free to return to China if the Chinese send a vessel to pick them up.

The Chinese government has reiterated its claim to the islands, as well as the surrounding waters, urging Japan not to patrol there.

But Foreign Press Secretary Satoru Sato told reporters Wednesday that Japan’s territorial ownership of the Senkakus is “the undeniable fact” and that the collision incident should be investigated properly under Japan’s criminal law.

The latest incident occurred during a seasonal surge of Chinese fishing boats in the disputed area in recent weeks.

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