National / Politics

Japan lodges protest with North Korea over boat collision as Abe vows to prevent illegal fishing in EEZ

Kyodo

Japan has lodged a protest with North Korea after one of its fishing boats collided with a Japanese patrol vessel in the country’s exclusive economic zone, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday.

“We have protested to North Korea” via the embassy in Beijing, Abe said at a Diet session, adding Japan will take “resolute” action to prevent illegal fishing by foreign ships in its EEZ.

The protest was made Monday after the fishing boat defied repeated orders from the Fisheries Agency’s vessel to leave the EEZ, a Foreign Ministry official said.

The collision took place early Monday some 350 kilometers northwest of the Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture. The location is near an area in the sea called Yamatotai, which encompasses fertile waters for squid and other types of fish.

Japanese authorities suspected the North Korean boat had been engaged in illegal fishing but that was not confirmed, Abe said.

All crew members of the boat were rescued after being tossed into the sea, according to the agency and the Japan Coast Guard. They clung onto life boats while their fishing vessel sank. They later left on a different North Korean ship without being detained.

The Okuni, a 1,300-ton patrol ship, returned to the port of Niigata on Tuesday with no apparent damage. The coast guard plans to further investigate the collision.

In the Diet, ruling and opposition party lawmakers have raised questions about the Japanese authorities’ handling of the incident, especially in light of the crew not being detained.

The EEZ is subject to international law on the high seas. Consequently, the coast guard was not allowed to board the North Korean boat, according to the coast guard.

The Fisheries Agency has been stepping up surveillance around Yamatotai.

It follows an increase in illegal fishing in recent years, with North Korean and Chinese boats spotted from June through December, the peak season for squid, causing alarm in the fishing industry.

“Japanese fishermen who catch squid in the area are very worried,” an industry representative told a meeting of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

The collision came days after North Korea test-fired what it called a new type of submarine-launched ballistic missile, which landed in Japan’s EEZ.

Abe has denounced the launch as a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, yet said he is still seeking a face-to-face meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “without preconditions” to resolve the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.