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Two Chinese fishermen drown during pursuit by Taiwan coast guard

<i>Taiwan Coast Guard Administration/AP</i><br/>The Taiwan coast guard inspect a vessel that capsized during a chase off the coast of Kinmen island in Taiwan on Feb. 14
Taiwan Coast Guard Administration/AP
The Taiwan coast guard inspect a vessel that capsized during a chase off the coast of Kinmen island in Taiwan on Feb. 14

By Shawn Deng and Wayne Chang, CNN

(CNN) — Two Chinese fishermen have drowned during a pursuit by Taiwan’s coast guard who accused them of entering prohibited waters off the coast of Taiwan’s Kinmen island.

According to the coast guard, an unnamed mainland Chinese vessel had trespassed within about one nautical mile off the coast of Kinmen – which lies nearer to mainland China than to Taiwan.

The vessel capsized while attempting to flee, causing four crew members aboard to fall into the water, it said.

“The coast patrol boat rescued two crew members and found another two unconscious crew members in the sea,” the coast guard said in a statement Wednesday, adding that the two unconscious members were confirmed dead after being taken to the hospital.

The two rescued crew were brought to Kinmen, the coast guard said.

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office strongly condemned the deaths and urged the Taiwan authorities to conduct a full investigation.

The Chinese Communist Party regards Taiwan, a self-governing democracy, as part of its territory, despite never having ruled it, and vessels from mainland China are frequently active in the waters near Kinmen due to its geographical proximity.

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said in its statement about the fishermen’s deaths that “such a vicious incident seriously hurt the feelings of compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Strait during the Spring Festival,” also known as the Lunar New Year holiday, celebrated by both mainland China and Taiwan.

It also accused Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party of being the main reason for the incident, claiming it had used “various excuses to forcefully seize mainland fishing boats and treat mainland fishermen roughly and dangerously.”

Taiwanese authorities on Thursday expressed regret over the death of two Chinese fishermen, but maintained that its maritime law enforcement officers were acting on their mandates in accordance with the law.

“We express regret and extend our condolences [to the family members of the deceased fishermen],” Minister of Ocean Affairs Council Kuan Bi-ling, told reporters in a press briefing, adding that the Coast Guard Administration (CGA) immediately reached out to the family members of the fishermen and had already established contact with some of them.

In a separate statement on Thursday, the CGA said the capsized vessel had “no name, no registration information, and no certificate of port registration.”

“Such vessels are of common concern and targets of enforcement to maritime law enforcement authorities on both sides,” Kuan said. “We have no malicious intent.”

The incident had been referred to prosecutors for further investigation, Taiwan’s coast guard administration also said Thursday.

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, which sets the island’s policy toward the mainland, said in a statement Thursday that a preliminary investigation indicated there was no wrongdoing on the part of the coast guard officers.

It also decried the behavior of the vessel’s crew and linked it to what it described as a pattern of problematic activities where “a very small number of people from mainland China have breached the border and engaged in various actions that damage the marine environment.”

“Despite our calls to strengthen governance, there has been no improvement,” the statement said. It added that “many Chinese fishing boats” had entered “restricted or prohibited” waters during the recent Lunar New holiday to catch “high value” fish. This “seriously infringes on the rights of our fishermen and the livelihood of coastal residents,” the statement said.

“We deeply regret that the mainland crew refused to cooperate with our law enforcement and the occurrence of such unfortunate incident,” it added.

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