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[SEOUL] South Korea summoned China's ambassador on Tuesday to protest against what it says was a deliberate collision by a Chinese fishing vessel with a South Korean coast guard patrol boat that later capsized and sank.
Disputes over illegal fishing are an irritant in relations between China and US ally South Korea, even as their economic relations grow close. They also share concern about North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile programmes.
South Korea's Ministry of Public Safety and Security, which oversees the coast guard, said one of its patrol boats sank last week during an operation to crack down on a group of Chinese vessels fishing illegally off the Korean peninsula's west coast.
It said the patrol boat was rammed by one of the Chinese vessels.
No injuries were reported from the incident.
South Korean media reports have said the Chinese vessel fled the scene and was believed to have returned to its home port.
Qiu Guohong, China's ambassador to South Korea, did not comment to reporters as he arrived at the foreign ministry.
China's coast guard is also looking into the incident to identify the fishing boat accused of crashing into the South Korean coast guard vessel after requests by its South Korean counterpart, the Ministry of Public Safety and Security said in a statement on Monday.
South Korean coastguard vessels regularly chase Chinese boats for fishing illegally off its coast, at times resulting in violent confrontations at sea.
Three Chinese fishermen were killed last month in a fire that broke out on their boat when a South Korean coast guard crew trying to apprehend them for illegal fishing threw flash grenades into a room in which they were hiding, according to a South Korean official.
In June, South Korea and the United Nations Command, which oversees the Korean War armistice, launched a joint operation to keep Chinese fishing vessels from operating illegally off South Korea's west coast.
South Korea has repeated its complaint to China about illegal fishing by Chinese trawlers and urged Beijing to help come up with a permanent solution.