BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina’s coast guard has sunk a Chinese trawler that was fishing illegally within its territorial waters, the coast guard said on Tuesday, marking a first test for relations between President Mauricio Macri and Beijing.
A coast guard vessel pursued the fishing vessel Lu Yan Yuan Yu 010 toward international waters in a high-seas chase on Monday, firing warning shots across the Chinese boat’s bow as it attempted to raise the crew by radio.
“On several occasions, the offending ship performed maneuvers designed to force a collision with the coast guard, putting at risk not only its own crew but coast guard personnel, who were then ordered to shoot parts of the vessel,” the coast guard said in a statement.
It was not clear if the vessel sank on Monday or Tuesday. The crew abandoned ship when the vessel began to go down.
Four crewmen were rescued by the coast guard while others were picked up by another Chinese vessel shadowing the pursuit.
China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement the Chinese government had lodged a protest over the incident and were demanding an explanation.
“The Foreign Ministry and Chinese embassy in Argentina have already lodged emergency representations with the Argentinian side and expressed serious concern about the incident, demanding Argentina launch an immediate probe and report on the details to China,” it said.
China is also asking Argentina to ensure the safety and legal rights of Chinese fishermen and take steps to ensure such incidents do not happen again, the statement said.
Macri’s center-right government, which took office in December, will likely be keen to avoid a diplomatic ruckus with the Asian powerhouse which has gained a strong foothold in South America, traditionally the United States’ back yard.
Relations between Argentina and China tightened under former leftist leader Cristina Fernandez. Macri promised during last year’s presidential race to review all new contracts with China but has shown no sign of doing so. Among those deals were an agreement to finance and build two nuclear power plants in Argentina in a deal worth up to $15 billion.
A spokesman for Argentina’s foreign ministry said the judiciary was investigating the incident.
Coast guards using radar picked up the trawler fishing off the coast of Puerto Madryn, Chubut province, a zone known for squid.
Shots were fired into the hull of the Lu Yan Yuan Yu 010 after it ignored repeated warning fire and radio calls to allow the Argentine coast guard to board.
China has the world’s largest distant water fishing fleet, with more than 2,000 vessels, the not-for-profit group Stop Illegal Fishing said last year.
Reporting by Juliana Castilla and Richard Lough; Additional reporting by Jessica Macy Yu and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Grant McCool, Matthew Lewis and Paul Tait