Mon, Nov 07, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Deal wisely with fishing dispute

By Song Yann-huei 宋燕輝

The Council of Agricultural Affairs has demanded that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs lodge a protest against Tokyo after one of Japan's coast guard patrol boats chased, intercepted and fined a Taiwanese fishing boat, the Tsengchinshun No. 168, based out of Ilan County.

I believe, however, that the government should first thoroughly investigate the incident, as the matter risks upsetting Taipei-Tokyo relations, and could even have a negative impact on the next round of Taiwan-Japan fishery talks scheduled for March.

Where the Tsengchinshun No. 168 was operating will be crucial to determining the legitimacy of Japan's action against it. If it was operating outside Japan's exclusive economic zone (EEZ), then Japan's interception and inspection of the boat was a violation of international law.

Each state has exclusive jurisdiction over boats that carry its flag on the high seas. Other nations can exercise jurisdiction over foreign ships on the high seas only when there are other treaty regulations that have precedence, or if the ship is suspected of slave trading, drug smuggling, illegal broadcasting or piracy.

Conversely, if the boat was operating within Japan's 200-nautical-mile (370km) EEZ, then the Japanese patrol boat was indeed entitled to intercept, check and detain it, and deal with it in accordance with domestic Japanese law.

If the boat was illegally fishing within Japan's EEZ and fled to the high seas after it was discovered, then, according to international law, the Japanese patrol boat had the right to chase the boat.

In fact, it could chase it to Taiwan's territorial waters up to a distance of 12 nautical miles (22.2km) off the coast.

In the late 1980s, a US patrol boat followed a Taiwanese fishing boat suspected of illegally catching salmon off the coast of Seattle. The pursuit continued all the way to the edge of Taiwan's 12-nautical mile territorial waters.

If the Tsengchinshun No. 168 was equipped with an automatic location communicator and entered the details into its log as it was required to, the data can be used to prove where the boat was operating.

However, the ship asked another Taiwanese boat, the Hsintungchuan 168, to pick up 10 of its 30 fishing nets that had been carried by the current into Japan's EEZ. This, together with the attempt to flee and to refuse an inspection by the Japanese patrol boat, has caused some to believe that it was doing something illegal in the region. Therefore, we have to confirm and clarify where the Tsengchinshun No. 168 was operating.

If the Ministry of Foreign Affairs cannot confirm that the Tsengchinshun No. 168 was operating within the Japan's EEZ, it must consider whether it is appropriate to lodge a protest against the Japanese government.

If the council and the ministry are able to determine that the Tsengchinshun No. 168 was operating outside Japan's EEZ, then the government should not only lodge a protest with the Japanese government, but also file claims against the Japanese government for damages.

The question is whether the Tsengchinshun No. 168 was, as Japan has claimed, operating within the EEZ of Japan's Parece Vela Island, the very southern tip of Japan.

In the past, this island was so tiny that it was literally uninhabitable. However, over the past 10 years, Japan has reclaimed land on the island, built a weather station and erected a landmark in an attempt to expand its EEZ.

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