On July 4, the Taiwan-registered recreational fishing boat Quanjiafu (全家福) sailed into seas surrounding the disputed Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), flying the five-star red flag of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
Article 7 of the Ships Act (船舶法) stipulates that ships registered in the Republic of China (ROC), ie, Taiwan, are not allowed to fly a non-ROC flag, while Article 94 of the same law states that the shipping administration authority will impose a fine of between NT$6,000 and NT$60,000 on the owner, master or steerer of any ship that violates this provision.
When Japan Coast Guard boats approached the Quanjiafu, one of the people on board the Taiwanese boat came out and waved a PRC flag. This was surely a violation of the aforementioned law, because “flying a flag” does not only mean raising it on a ship’s mast, but also painting it on the sides of the ship, hanging it from the cabin and so on. That is how the term is understood around the world.
Having violated the rule that ROC ships should not fly non-ROC flags, the ship’s owner or master should face a fine, so why has our government done nothing about it?
Another point is that, according to the Coast Guard Authority’s (CGA) standard operating procedure for fishery protection, when Japanese vessels interfere with Taiwanese fishing vessels within the temporary law enforcement line, the government will dispatch ships to escort them and provide assistance. Accordingly, the CGA maintains boats on patrol on Taiwan’s side of the temporary law enforcement line at all times and in all weather. To ensure that patrol boats can respond quickly to any incident, one patrol boat takes over from another at the scene, rather than first returning to port.
However, the CGA never dispatches multiple patrol boats to escort a particular fishing boat, follow its every move and guard it closely. That is because lots of fishing boats go fishing in waters northwest of Taiwan and close to the Diaoyutai Islands. It would be impossible for Taiwan to escort every fishing boat, and even if it were possible, it would be a waste of resources.
However, on this occasion, as soon as the Quanjiafu left port, and before it had met with any interference, five patrol boats arrived to escort it all the way. Providing a Taiwanese boat flying the Chinese five-star flag with such an exclusive “five-star” escort service is not at all in line with the government’s standard operating procedure, or with the usual practice established over many years.
The government should explain which department or officials made such a peculiar decision, and why. Otherwise, any fishing boat that heads into waters northeast of Taiwan will be able to cite the recent incident as a precedent and demand that the authorities send out patrol boats to protect it.
What will be left of our authorities’ prestige if they fail to handle this matter properly? The government is duty-bound to investigate the incident and give the public a credible explanation.
Chiang Huang-chih is a law professor at National Taiwan University.
Translated by Julian Clegg