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Japan coast guard says detains Chinese fishing boat near Okinawa

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Japan's coast guard detained a Chinese fishing boat near the southern Japanese island of Okinawa on Saturday and arrested the captain for collecting coral illegally, a coast guard official said.

The vessel was detained off Miyako Island, some 150 km (95 miles) from islands in the East China Sea at the centre of a territorial dispute between the two countries, and about 400 km (250 miles) east of Taipei.

A long-simmering row over the East China Sea islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China, has in recent months escalated to the point where both sides have scrambled fighter jets while patrol ships shadow each other in nearby seas.

In September 2010, the arrest of a Chinese trawler captain by the Japanese coast guard near the disputed islands triggered a barrage of strong words from Beijing and protests in front of Japanese diplomatic missions.

The Japanese coast guard official said on Saturday the captain of the boat was arrested for alleged violation of Japanese law to protect the country's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) from unauthorized fishing.

The vessel was found collecting coral inside the EEZ, 46 km east-northeast of Miyako island, east of Ishigaki, the official said.

The boat and crew of 12 people were being taken to Miyako island.

China's official Xinhua news agency, quoting the Chinese Consulate General in the city of Fukuoka, said the vessel had been detained for "alleged unauthorized coral fishing".

"The consulate has urged the Japanese side to ensure the safety of the Chinese sailors and will visit the captain when he arrives at Miyako," Xinhua reported.

(Reporting by John Ruwitch; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Jeremy Laurence)

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