Chinese fishermen detained by men from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea arrived with their vessels in Northeast China's Dalian on Monday, bringing a peaceful end to an international incident that lasted for 10 days.
They were released from the custody of men in DPRK military uniform without paying any fines or "ransom".
It was reported that the men initially demanded payment of 400,000 yuan ($63,200) for each boat before lowering their request to 300,000 yuan, and they even set a deadline of May 17. The men demanded that the fishermen sign a confession to fishing illegally in DPRK territory, and they were forced to pledge never to do it again.
The 28 fishermen arrived at Dalijia fishing harbor at about 7 am and received medical tests in a local hospital. According to the observations of a China Daily reporter, they appeared unharmed and had no cuts or bruises.
Earlier, media had reported that 29 fishermen were captured, but one captain explained that a crew member was ill and didn't get on board that day.
Han Qiang, captain of the Liaodanyu 23536, said his boat was seized along with two others in the Chinese section of the Yellow Sea on May 8 and dragged to a DPRK island, where the crew was held in custody by armed militiamen in DPRK uniform. "I was so afraid to lift my head up and see their faces because some of us got slapped for doing that," he said.
The DPRK captors stripped them of their good shoes and clothes, and some of the detained fishermen came back with plastic slippers on their feet.
Additionally, Han said they took everything they could move from the ship, including fishing nets, fish, phones and all the crew members' belongings. "They even took the washing powder away, and also pumped out the diesel from the fuel tank, just leaving enough for us to go back."
Zhang Shouyi, 28, from Taihe county in Anhui province, was a sailor on one of the ships. He said he and the seven other crew members were held below deck in a small, unlit room of about 3 square meters.
"They locked the door with iron wires, and if the guards were in a good mood, they would accompany us to allow us to use the bathroom. Otherwise, we were only allowed to relieve ourselves in that small space," he said.
Zhang said they did not have enough sleep or enough food. "Since being caught, we could hardy fall asleep these days."
The crew members were cut off completely from their family members.
"I was afraid that they would worry about me if I told them. They thought I was working in Shandong and do not know I'm here. So I plan to call them in a day or two."
The wife of detained fisherman Zheng Xiujun, 31, rushed from Suihua in Heilongjiang province upon hearing the news of her husband's return.
"When I first saw him in the hospital, it was impossible to hold back my tears. I was crying for his return, and it was a load off my mind," she said. "He looked visibly thinner. My heart hurt when I saw his bushy beard because he normally shaves every day."
Han said he does not want to repeat this incident and will shy away from fishing too far out into the ocean in the future.
Dong Manyuan, a researcher with the China Institute of International Studies, said the Chinese government should reflect on this incident and strengthen the safety education provided to those who fish offshore, especially in border areas.
The Chinese government should also encourage fishermen to abandon methods that seriously damage coastal resources to protect them for future generations, he said.
In addition, China should develop an emergency response mechanism to prevent such incidents from happening again.
Since the incident, the Chinese government had been in close communication with the DPRK to push for a speedy resolution to the issue. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China demanded the DPRK ensure the safety and legitimate rights and interests of the Chinese fishermen.