By Shane Romig

BUENOS AIRES–Argentina’s coast guard has detained two Chinese ships as it steps up efforts to prevent illegal fishing in its waters.

The fishing ships are currently being held in the Patagonian port of Comodoro Rivadavia where a federal judge has opened an investigation into the matter.

The captains are currently being questioned by the judge and the crews have been ordered to remain on board their vessels, a coast guard official said.

The coast guard intercepted the ships two nautical miles inside Argentina’s 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone on Dec. 24, Argentina’s Security Ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said the coast guard boarded the ships after firing warning shots to prevent them from fleeing to international waters.

The vessels were carrying 10 tons of squid and fish.

The ministry said the ships left China on Oct. 23 with a combined crew of 36 people.

Officials from the Chinese Embassy didn’t return a message seeking comment.

Argentina’s government has invested heavily in the Navy and Coast Guard over the past decade to boost patrolling and “defend the countries sovereignty and fisheries,” the Agriculture Ministry said in a statement.

Argentina is a leading global seafood exporter with many fishing fleets from Asia and other parts of the world prowling the country’s rich southern waters each season.

During the first 10 months of the year, Argentine fish and shellfish exports were valued at just over $1 billion, according to government data.

(Ken Parks contributed to this article.)

(c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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