Seven years ago, the captain of the Taiwanese fishing boat Man Chun Yi was killed, other crewmembers injured and the ship damaged. Then earlier this month, a crewmember on another Taiwanese fishing boat, the Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28, was killed after the boat was sprayed with bullets by Philippine Coast Guard personnel.
The Philippine government’s cold-blooded killing of Taiwanese fishermen is very disturbing. The Philippine government has not shown Taiwan any respect and this has incensed Taiwanese, with calls coming from all around the nation for the Manila to make amends. President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has demanded an official apology and called for an investigation as well as compensation and a guarantee that similar incidents never happen again. Ma has said that if this is not done, he does not exclude the use of any kind of sanctions and he will not stop until something is done about it.
Whether the government can seek justice for the family of the deceased while also securing safety guarantees for Taiwanese fishermen operating in these areas are issues that Taiwanese and foreign observers are paying close attention to.
Ma should immediately send ships to the southern exclusive economic zone and use military force to protect our fishermen and show that he has the determination to protect the safety of Taiwanese if he wants to avoid becoming a lame-duck president.
The Philippines and Taiwan have overlapping exclusive economic zones (EEZs), but the Taiwanese government has never come up with a way to resolve this issue, with the result that Taiwanese fishermen have to worry about being harassed when fishing in these waters.
Over the past 13 years, there have been 31 reported cases of the Philippine Coast Guard harassing Taiwanese fishing vessels, the majority of which were resolved by paying under-the-table “fines.” Taiwanese authorities have yet to engage with the Philippine government over the problem or increase sea patrols to stop Taiwanese fishermen from being harassed.
The government has instead demanded that Taiwanese fishermen do their best to stay away from these waters. It is obvious that officials have been negligent in their duties. This negligence has meant that our fishermen never know what may be in store for them each time they go out to sea, and it is safe to say that there is nobody more capable of deeply feeling the tragedy of being Taiwanese than fishermen and their families.
Taiwanese fishermen have their own reasons for risking their lives by fishing in dangerous areas. Fishing resources are almost depleted near Taiwan and fishermen are having a hard time finding more valuable catches. Increases in the costs of fuel and electricity, rising salaries for fishermen and an increase in fishing access fees, coupled with the fact that the Philippine waters are important grounds for bluefin tuna, all mean that despite the bad reputation the Philippines has for pirates and their military, Taiwanese fishermen have no choice but to take a gamble to make better catches.
Once all of the excitement surrounding the latest killing dies down, our fishermen will still face the threat of being gunned down. Is there really no hope for change? Given Taiwan’s weak international status, it is impractical to advocate going to other countries and loudly proclaiming our fishing rights. We can also forget about China helping us.