SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean maritime police on Wednesday withdrew divers after they failed to find at least four people believed to be trapped inside a Chinese fishing boat that capsized and killed at least one passenger near a small island off South Korea's southwest coast.
It was now up to Chinese coast guardsmen who arrived at the scene late in the afternoon to decide whether to continue with the search and rescue efforts or tow the boat away, according to an official from the Ministry of Public Safety and Security. He spoke on condition of anonymity, citing office rules.
Four people were rescued by nearby Chinese fishing boats, and South Korean divers hours later saved another passenger, who was conscious and able to talk. Another man pulled earlier by South Korean divers was pronounced dead.
Four other passengers are believed to be inside the boat, which wasn't approved by South Korean authorities to fish in the country's waters, the official said. Weather conditions made it difficult for South Korean divers to search the boat and the possibility of the remaining four passengers being alive was considered low, he said.
An official from maritime police in the port city of Mokpo, who also didn't want to be named, said the boat was being towed by other Chinese vessels over unspecified problems when it rolled over 85 kilometers (52 miles) northwest of Gageo island. The other vessels kept the boat from fully submerging until South Korean rescuers arrived, he said.
The accident occurred not far from a spot where a ferry sank in 2014 and killed more than 300 people, mostly teenagers on a school trip, in what was the country's largest maritime disaster in decades.
Chinese fishing boats have been going farther afield to feed growing domestic demand for seafood as catches decrease in waters close to China's shores. South Korea's maritime police seized about 570 Chinese ships last year for illegal fishing, according to the ministry.