BEIJING (Reuters) - North Korea detained a Chinese fishing boat and demanded a fine for its release, Chinese media reported on Tuesday, apparently the first such move in more than a year, risking further straining ties between North Korea and its only major ally.
A boat from the northern China seaport city of Dalian, with six crew on board, was seized by North Koreans on September 12 while fishing in the Yellow Sea between China and the Korean Peninsula, the city government-run Beijing News reported.
The owner of the boat told the newspaper that he received a phone call, apparently from the North Korean coast guard, two days later and was told that his boat and crew had been detained for fishing in North Korean waters.
The North Koreans demanded a fine of 250,000 yuan ($40,700) for releasing the boat and its crew, but on September 17th the six crew returned to their fishing village with wounds on their bodies from being beaten, the newspaper said. Their wallets and belts had been stolen.
"The crew insist that their boat did not enter North Korean waters, not to mention crossing the line for fishing," Zhang Xikai, the fishing boat owner, was quoted as saying.
"They were conducting normal operations within Chinese waters when they were hijacked by North Korean personnel with guns and dragged into North Korean waters by force."
China's foreign ministry confirmed it was aware of the boat's seizure and the Chinese embassy in Pyongyang on Monday made representations to the North Korean government, the newspaper said.
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Tuesday she had not yet seen the report and would make checks.
North Korea in May detained a Chinese vessel along with 16 crew demanding 600,000 yuan, but eventually released them without the payment after Beijing intervened.
In 2012, three Chinese fishing boats were seized by North Koreans who asked for 1.2 million yuan. They were freed later but it was unclear whether any payment had been made.
Beijing is a major supplier of food aid and oil to Pyongyang. But tension has mounted between the two countries, with North Korea isolated by U.N. sanctions over its nuclear ambitions and rocket launches. ($1 = 6.14 yuan)
(Reporting by Li Hui and Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Nick Macfie)