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Transport minister Seiji Maehara on Thursday inspected the Japan Coast Guard office on Ishigaki Island, Okinawa Prefecture, viewing two boats involved in collisions with a Chinese fishing vessel near the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

Maehara, who has authority over the maritime patrol force, gave a pep talk to coast guard personnel at the office, which is where the Chinese boat’s skipper and 14 crew members were taken following the Sept. 7 incident.

He went aboard the patrol boats Yonakuni and Mizuki at the office’s moorage station and checked their damage.

Brushing aside China’s protests, Maehara reiterated the government’s position denying the existence of a territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands.

He said the captain of the Chinese boat would be treated fairly, in line with domestic law.

Maehara said he saw paint marks left by the fishing vessel on the patrol boats.

“The two patrol boats were hit very strongly,” he said.

Maehara flew from Tokyo to Ishigaki Island on a commercial flight and then took a Japan Coast Guard plane for his 30-minute stay on the island.

The Chinese captain has been detained after he was arrested in the early hours of Sept. 8 on suspicion of obstructing public officers performing their duties, by making his ship hit one of the patrol boats.

Investigators are also questioning the skipper on suspicion of illegal fishing operations in Japan’s territorial waters.

The 14 crew members and the fishing boat have already been returned to China.

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