A South Korea coast guardsman on Friday fatally shot the captain of a Chinese fishing vessel who resisted the inspection of his ship for suspected illegal fishing, officials said.

The brawl erupted as a dozen South Korean coast guard officers boarded the Chinese ship in South Korea's western exclusive economic zone, which extends 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) from shore, according to South Korea's coast guard.

When four other Chinese fishing ships pulled nearby and sent their crew members aboard the ship being inspected, the Chinese captain began resisting violently, which led to his shooting death, said coast guard officer Cho Nam-yong.

Chinese fishermen wielded knives and beer bottles and chocked some South Korean officer after knocking off their helmets, according to a coast guard statement. Five South Korean officers received minor injuries, the coast guard said.

One of the South Korean officers fired eight shots after three blanks but didn't specifically aim at the captain, according to the coast guard.

The 45-year-old Chinese national was airlifted to a hospital and pronounced dead about 30 minutes later, according to officials at the Mokpo Hankook Hospital. The officials said the bullet in the man's abdomen penetrated his lungs, liver and kidney.

South Korea's Foreign Ministry informed the Chinese Embassy in Seoul of the incident and expressed regret over the captain's death, according to ministry officials.

Chinese fishing boats have been going farther afield to feed growing domestic demand for seafood as catches have decreased in waters close to China's shores. South Korea's coast guard seized about 220 Chinese ships last year for illegal fishing in the Yellow Sea.

In 2012, a Chinese fisherman died after being hit by a rubber bullet fired by a South Korean guardsman during a similar inspection. A year earlier, a South Korean coast guard officer was killed in a clash with Chinese fishermen in South Korean waters.

South Korea and China are at odds over a set of submerged rocks that are controlled by Seoul but also claimed by Beijing. However, no serious diplomatic disputes have arisen.


Associated Press writer Hyung-jin Kim contributed to this report.