A crewmember of a Chinese vessel that allegedly poached giant clams off the waters of Palau was shot dead by police after a confrontation on Saturday.
The fisherman died in a hail of bullets designed to stop the Chinese vessel fishing, while five men, all believed to be Chinese, were taken from the burning ship and have been charged with unlawful entry and illegal fishing in Palau waters, according to charges filed by Assistant Attorney General Timothy McGillicuddy.
The Guam-based KUAM News reported that 25 Chinese nationals had been taken into custody and could face charges, but neither Beijing nor Palau confirmed the report.
Police from Palau's Fish and Wildlife Division fired warning shots at the vessel when it didn't stop after being detected near a conservation area at dawn on Saturday, AFP reported.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry's official micro blog said on Wednesday that the ministry and Chinese embassy in Micronesia, another island country near Palau, were investigating the case and would verify the fishermen's identities as soon as possible. Palau, some 800 kilometers east of the Philippines, has diplomatic relations with Taipei, instead of Beijing.
Palau President Johnson Toribiong issued a statement in which he did not mention the shooting or arrests but said a US-licensed pilot and two police officers were missing 48 hours after their plane crashed while searching for the fishing vessel's mothership, which had been set alight. The single-engine Cessna aircraft left the Palau National Airport on Sunday, but more than three hours after it was due to return the pilot radioed that his navigational systems had failed and he was running out of fuel.
The US Coast Guard and a mega-yacht owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen were still searching for the crew on Wednesday.
The US is currently responsible for the defense of Palau, which gained independence in 1994. Palau closely guards its territorial waters after declaring the world's first shark sanctuary in 2009, banning shark fishing in its exclusive economic zone, which covers almost 630,000 sq km of the northern Pacific.
The charge of unlawful entry into Palau, which has a population of 20,000, carries a penalty of up to two years imprisonment and a $50,000 fine.
The top priority now is to verify the fishermen's nationalities and find out what really happened, said Xia Liping, deputy dean of the Department of Diplomacy with China Foreign Affairs University.
"If they did break the local and international laws, what China needs to do is to provide them with the necessary legal assistance, such as helping them to find interpreters and lawyers," she said.
Meanwhile, Chinese nationals should enhance legal and self-protection awareness to avoid consular disputes, she added.