A mutiny aboard a Chinese torpedo boat that came to South Korea last week was sparked by arguments among the crew rather than desire to escape from China, a South Korean government statement indicated today.
The statement did not disclose whether two sailors who it said took control of the boat after gunning down six persons and wounding two others would be returned to China, as the Chinese government has demanded.
The mutiny led to the first military encounter in years between the two countries when South Korean air and naval units made a show of force to turn back three Chinese vessels that had entered South Korean waters in search of the boat.
However, the two countries, which have been cautiously opening unofficial relations with each other in recent years, have moved to defuse the incident.
Unofficial reports in Seoul say that at least one of the crew members has requested political asylum. However, the South Korean government's suggestion that the incident was not politically motivated raises the possibility that it plans to try the two men itself or send them back to China.
According to the government account, the mutiny began Thursday evening as the vessel was returning to its base at Qingdao on the Yellow Sea with five other torpedo boats following a training mission.
A radio operator and a navigator who had made unspecified complaints against senior crew members became angry after being called insulting names, according to the statement, and picked up automatic rifles. They entered the control room and opened fire, killing six persons and wounding two others.
"Afraid of punishment on return, they made the boat leave the group, argued with other crew members about what to do and sailed in all different directions for nine hours," the statement said. "Then the boat ran out of fuel and began drifting."
Six and a half hours after that, the vessel encountered a South Korean fishing boat and signaled for help by firing tracer bullets, the statement said. The fishing boat towed the Chinese boat to a South Korean island. Later, at the Chinese crew's request, it said, the boat was towed to the South Korean mainland.