Japan Searches for 8 Chinese Missing Off Disputed Islands

TOKYO — Japan searched Friday for eight Chinese crewmembers missing after their fishing boat collided with a cargo ship off disputed islands in the East China Sea, government officials said.

The Japan Coast Guard’s search came one day after six other crewmembers were rescued.

Their boat apparently sank after colliding with a Greek-flagged ship Thursday off the Japan-controlled Senkaku islands, which China also claims.

The collision occurred as hundreds of Chinese fishing boats have been swarming around the islands since early August with the start of the mackerel season.

Up to 15 Chinese coast guard vessels – four times the usual number _ were also in the area. The increase prompted Japan to lodge a protest several times a day for a week.

Officials said some of the Chinese ships left following the accident, and the Chinese side thanked Japan for its rescue efforts.

Relations between Japan and China have long been strained also over how to develop undersea gas deposits in the area, as well as by their wartime history, a sensitive topic during the summer because of end-of-the-war anniversaries.

Japanese media reports say the recent escalation in China’s activity around the disputed islands may be seen as a warning against planned visits by members of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, which honors war criminals among the war dead, for the Aug. 15 anniversary to mark the end of World War II.