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Friday, September 30, 2016, 16:44

China protests after 3 fishermen killed off ROK

By Agencies

China protests after 3 fishermen killed off ROK

In this Sept. 29, 2016 photo provided by the Republic of Korea's Mokpo Coast Guard, a Chinese fishing boat catches fires during an inspection by the ROK coast guard in the water off Hong Island, ROK. (South Korean Mokpo Coast Guard via AP)

SEOUL, South Korea — Three Chinese fishermen likely died from inhaling toxic fumes when a fire erupted after Republic of Korea (ROK) coast guard officers threw "flashbang" grenades into the fishing boat, officials in Seoul said Friday.

China's Foreign Ministry said it had lodged a protest with Seoul about the incident.

Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing Beijing was also urging ROK to hold a "comprehensive and objective" investigation into the incident, along with China.

The vessel, which carried 17 fishermen, initially resisted and fled before ROK coast guard officers managed to board the ship and threw flashbang grenades into its locked steering room, the coast guard said in a statement. Flashbang grenades are non-lethal devices that produce a blinding flash of light and loud sound.

A fire erupted on the boat and three fishermen found lying in the boat's engine room later died, the coast guard statement said.

Coast guard officers said the three likely died after inhaling toxic smoke but that autopsies were planned to find the exact causes of their deaths. Authorities will also investigate if the flashbang grenades caused the fire.

The 14 surviving fishermen were taken to a ROK port for questioning, according to the coast guard.

Seoul's Foreign Ministry on Friday expressed regret over the deaths.

The fire broke out in the boat's steering room, said an official, who is not authorized to speak with media and declined to be identified.

A Chinese embassy official in Seoul could not be reached for comment.

The Chinese boat was fishing in waters off the southwest of the peninsula, about 70 km southwest of Hongdo Island, the official said.

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