Most Taiwanese fishing vessels have a GPS system installed, which means that determining their position should be easy.
In the recent incident involving the Taiwanese fishing boat Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28, which came under fire from personnel aboard a Philippine Coast Guard vessel on Thursday last week, killing one of its crewmembers, the actions of the Philippine vessel did not follow international maritime conventions.
Even if the fishing boat was engaging in illegal fishing, the Philippine vessel should still have to first gone through a series of actions appropriate to the situation: issuing a warning, demanding that the boat stop, approaching it and then boarding to check the vessel’s documentation.
If the fishing boat increased speed and tried to leave instead of heeding the warnings, the Philippine vessel should have fired warning shots into the water.
The behavior of the Philippine vessel was no different from the behavior of pirates or bandits.
Although the Ministry of Foreign Affairs immediately filed a strong protest with the Philippines, condemning its actions and requiring that the Philippine government offer an official apology and arrest the perpetrators, it is important to keep in mind that this was not the first incident of its kind between Taiwan and the Philippines.
Judging from the attitude and the actions of the Philippine government in past incidents, it is likely that these protests will not result in anything unless Taiwan continues to take a tough stance.
This incident has quickly developed from an event at sea and the need to protect fishermen to a diplomatic incident.
If it turns out to be impossible to find a quick and unambiguous solution to handle the issue, it could set public opinion against Taiwan’s government, and the government’s authority and ability to handle to the issue would come under considerable pressure.
In addition, when it comes to the Philippines, Taiwan clearly does not lack the capabilities to protect and enforce the safety of Taiwanese fishermen at sea.
We should use this incident as an opportunity to turn the situation to our advantage by initiating patrols from a fixed patrol station in the area.
If the Coast Guard Administration’s vessels are too few and too small, the navy should shoulder its responsibility and start providing practical assistance.
It is necessary to understand that dispatching vessels to a station for patrols is not a provocation aimed at the Philippines.
Rather, it is a way to tell the Philippines in a firm and stern manner that these waters are part of Taiwan’s sovereign territory and an expression of our firm determination and capability to protect our sovereignty.
This incident may seem to be unrelated to China, but if Beijing were to take the initiative to send ocean surveillance or fisheries vessels to the area before Taiwan reacts, it would be an embarrassment to Taiwan’s government.
Let us not forget the arguments in recent years over whether Taiwan should send ships to the Gulf of Aden to protect Taiwanese ships in the area, which were raised following the rising levels of unchecked piracy there.
It would be much better to begin by protecting the 200 nautical mile (370km) exclusive economic zone around Taiwan.
If we are incapable of protecting our fishermen in our own waters, why would we even consider sending ships to patrol distant seas?
Wang Jyh-perng is a reserve navy captain.
Translated by Perry Svensson