Japanese coast guard sink boat

Sunday, December 23, 2001

TOKYO -- A fishing boat suspected of spying for North Korea sank off southwestern Japan late Saturday after trading machine gun fire with Japanese coast guard vessels at the end of a six-hour chase, officials said.

Two coast guard sailors suffered minor wounds in the firefight, and an estimated 15 crewmen from the fishing boat were dumped into rough seas when the vessel went down 240 miles off the Japanese island of Amami Oshima.

Survivors clung to life preservers in the cold water for nearly two hours as rescue efforts were hampered by the rough conditions and concerns that the castaways might resist.

By early Sunday, there were no signs of survivors, coast guard spokeswoman Miki Sakamoto said. She said patrol boats were continuing a search.

Coast guard and defense officials said the unidentified fishing boat might have been spying for North Korea, and some officials suggested the boat's crew members may have killed themselves to avoid capture.

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