Thirty-seven Chinese fishermen detained by the Sri Lankan navy on Sunday night were not involved in illegal fishing, and the detention was a misunderstanding, Yuan Baisheng, a consul of the Chinese embassy in Sri Lanka, told China Daily on Monday.
According to the embassy, the fishermen are employed by two trawlers owned by a Sri Lankan shipping company.
The fishermen have been released, the Chinese embassy confirmed on Monday.
"The fishermen were held on board and free to move around during the 'detainment,'" said Yuan.
According to Yuan, the Sri Lankan company bought the two vessels from China, and locals might confuse the Sri Lankan vessels as Chinese ones, due to the old Chinese logo on the body of the ship.
The details about the reason the fishermen were detained need to be further confirmed, Yuan said.
Sri Lankan navy spokesman Commander Kosala Warnakulasuriya was quoted by Xinhua News Agency on Monday as saying that the Chinese were arrested for illegally fishing in Sri Lankan waters and would be handed over to police for further investigation.
The fishermen were aboard the two trawlers off the eastern coast of Batticaloa, he said, adding that two Sri Lankan crewmen were also arrested.
The two trawlers — one with a crew of 19 Chinese and one Sri Lankan and the other with 18 Chinese and one Sri Lankan — were escorted to Sri Lanka's Trincomalee Harbor, the Sri Lankan navy said.
The trawlers, YU 6177 and YU 6178, are registered with Sri Lanka's Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and have permission to engage in fishing beyond the Exclusive Economic Zone of Sri Lanka, the navy said on its website.
When news of the seizure emerged, the Chinese embassy immediately began to coordinating with Sri Lankan authorities, it said.
According to the website of illegal-fishing.info, marine fisheries are of considerable importance in Sri Lanka. Fishing contributes 2 percent to the nation's GDP, and approximately 1 million people are sustained by the fishing industry.
In recent years, the fishing industry has emerged as an important source of foreign exchange through the export of high-value products, such as frozen tuna, as well as shrimp, lobsters, shark fins and sea cucumber.
The key markets for Sri Lankan seafood exports are the EU, China, Japan, Singapore and the US.