BUENOS AIRES, March 8 (Reuters) - Argentina has issued an international capture order for five Chinese boats it says were illegally fishing in its waters, the coast guard said in a statement on Thursday, following a failed attempt to detain one of the boats at sea.
Federal Judge Eva Parcio de Seleme approved the order to capture the Jing Yuan 626, which the coast guard detected on Feb. 21 allegedly fishing illegally in Argentina’s exclusive economic zone off the Patagonian coast.
Illegal fishing by Chinese boats has tested diplomatic relations between President Mauricio Macri and China. In 2016, the coast guard sank a Chinese trawler it said was fishing illegally in its territorial waters.
After detecting the Jing Yuan last month, the coast guard said it called on the boat to stop moving, at which point it turned off its lights and tried to escape into international waters.
An Argentine coast guard vessel pursued the boat and fired warning shots, but it said four other boats tried to collide with its vessel to prevent the Jing Yuan from being captured. The Foreign Ministry called off the operation after eight hours.
Argentina’s coast is rich in squid, hake and prawns.
China has the world’s largest and farthest-ranging fishing operation, with 2,500 vessels logging approximately 17 million hours of fishing in 2016, mostly off the southern coast of their home country but also in Africa and South America.
Last year, Chinese trawlers were seized off Senegal, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau over illegal fishing. (Reporting by Luc Cohen Editing by Matthew Lewis)