Japan to free Chinese skipper at centre of row: reports

TOKYO, September 24, 2010 (AFP) - Japan decided Friday to free and send home a Chinese fishing boat captain whose arrest in disputed waters sparked the worst row in years between the Asian giants, reports said.

Prosecutors cited the damage already done to relations with Beijing as a factor behind their decision, reports said.

"The Chinese captain will be sent back to China," public broadcaster NHK said, adding it would take time because formalities had to be ironed out.

The Japanese coastguard arrested the captain, Zhan Qixiong, 41, on September 8 after his trawler collided with two of their patrol boats in waters near a disputed East China Sea island chain.

In the ensuing row, China issued a series of diplomatic protests, cancelled official visits and cultural events, and threatened that the row would seriously harm bilateral relations.

Nippon TV quoted the prosecutors office as saying: "We have decided that keeping him in detention isn't worth it, considering its effect on the public and the future of Japan-China relations."