Chinese trawler in Argentina
An aerial view of a Chinese flagged fishing vessel, the China Yan Lu Yuan Yu 010, off Argentina's Atlantic coast in this still image taken from videoReuters

Beijing has expressed serious concern and called for an investigation after the Argentine coast guard sank a Chinese trawler citing illegal fishing. The Argentine Naval Prefecture said the vessel was fishing in a restricted area off the South American nation's coast despite warnings.

The coast guard said in a statement that one of its ships fired several warning shots at Lu Yan Yuan Yu 010 after the vessel entered Argentina's exclusive economic zone. Buenos Aires said as the Chinese trawler was trespassing its waters, the vessel also tried to ram a coast guard boat.

"On several occasions the offending ship performed manoeuvres designed to force a collision with the coast guard, putting at risk not only its own crew but coast guard personnel, who were then ordered to shoot parts of the vessel," the coast guard said in a statement. The crew abandoned the ship when it began to go down and all the four members – three staff and the captain – were rescued.

Twenty-eight others who were on the ship were picked up by Chinese fishing vessels sailing nearby. No fatalities were reported. A video has also been posted by the coast guard in which the Chinese boat was seen listing to one side.

Responding to the episode, which is likely to be a litmus test for President Mauricio Macri's ties with Beijing, the Chinese foreign ministry said: "The foreign ministry and the Chinese embassy in Argentina have already lodged emergency representations with the Argentine side and expressed serious concern about the incident, demanding Argentina launch an immediate probe and report on the details to China."

The incident is seen as a setback to Sino-Argentinian relations which have been improving.