On May 9, a Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources vessel opened fire on the Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28, a fishing boat registered in Liouciou Township (琉球) that was fishing for bluefin tuna in maritime waters between Taiwan and the Philippines. One of the Taiwanese crewmembers, 65-year-old Hung Shih-cheng (洪石成), was killed.
The incident came to the attention of the authorities, and the government has officially protested to the Philippines.
However, this turn of events once again highlights the fact that there has been no resolution to the long-standing maritime dispute between the Philippines and Taiwan, and issues of fisheries management and the enforcement of maritime law have largely gone unaddressed.
The exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of Taiwan proper extends 200 nautical miles (370km) south of the southernmost base point of the territorial sea baselines marked by T15 or Seven Star Reef (七星岩). The outer limits of this EEZ reach the northern tip of Luzon Island in the northern Philippines.
In the same way, the outer limits of the EEZ claimed by the Philippines extends 200 nautical miles north of the archipelagic baseline’s northernmost base point No. 100 marked by Mavudis Island (also known as Y'ami Island), the northernmost of the outlying Batanes Islands that lie off Luzon proper. Mavudis Island lies quite a distance from Luzon proper, and the outer limit reaches up to Wuci Fishing Port (梧棲漁港) in Greater Taichung, halfway up Taiwan’s west coast.
There has been no progress for several decades now on agreeing the demarcation between these overlapping EEZ claims.
Since 2009, Taiwan has made changes to its official maritime baselines and points, and the Philippines has announced its own archipelagic baselines and points and clarified the extent of the EEZ. And yet, we have failed to take these opportunities or policy instruments to demand that the two countries sit down and resolve some of these disputed EEZ limits.
As it has ratified the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Philippines is obliged to comply with Article 51 of the convention, which states: “... an archipelagic State shall respect existing agreements with other States and shall recognize traditional fishing rights and other legitimate activities of the immediately adjacent neighboring States in certain areas falling within archipelagic waters. The terms and conditions for the exercise of such rights and activities, including the nature, the extent and the areas to which they apply, shall, at the request of any of the States concerned, be regulated by bilateral agreements between them.”
This is especially important since the Philippines signed into law its 2009 Republic Act No. 9522, also known as the Archipelagic Baseline Act, in which its maritime baselines were redefined as archipelagic baselines.
With this change, and the recognition of itself as an archipelagic nation, it is even more imperative that it enter into consultations with Taipei over Taiwan’s traditional fishing rights and other lawful activities within the archipelagic waters that fall inside the Philippines’ archipelagic baseline, and arrive at the agreements regarding fishing and other activity.
The fishing vessel involved in the May 9 incident was a small, 15 tonne tuna fishing vessel, which would make it a near-shore fishing boat, but the fact that an international incident could happen was because it was operating in the EEZ overlap zone.