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.
In a high-seas chase, a coast guard vessel pursued the fishing vessel Lu Yan Yuan Yu 010 toward international waters, firing warning shots across the Chinese boat’s bow as it attempted to raise the crew by radio.
A video posted on the coast guard’s website showed the boat slowly listing in the open sea after coming under fire.
The boat was detected off Puerto Madryn, 1,300 kilometres south of Buenos Aires.
It tried to flee into international waters when the coast guard ordered it to stop, then repeatedly manoeuvred to collide with the patrol ship, authorities said.
“On several occasions, the offending ship performed manoeuvres 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.
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 radio calls to allow the Argentine coast guard to board and repeated warning fire.
The crew abandoned ship when the vessel began to go down.
Watch footage of the chase below:
Four crewmen were rescued by the coast guard while others were picked up by another Chinese vessel shadowing the pursuit.
It was not clear if the vessel sank on Monday or Tuesday.
President Macri’s centre-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.
While Mr Macri promised during last year’s presidential race to review all new contracts with China, he 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 $US15 billion.
A spokesman for Argentina’s foreign ministry said the judiciary was investigating the incident.
Officials at the Chinese Embassy in the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires, were not available for comment.
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.