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.
Taiwan’s fisheries authorities have no way of controlling the activities of small fishing boats like the Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28, and we have to rely instead upon the Ministry of the Interior’s and the Coast Guard Administration’s (CGA) Temporary Enforcement Line, as well as the protection provided by CGA patrols. Nevertheless, our ability to enforce maritime law is, in practice, extremely limited, and falls way behind that of some other countries.
In the 1990s, the Canadian Coast Guard and the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans responsible for it had at their disposal over-the-horizon radar and fixed wing surveillance planes.
They afforded real-time surveillance capability to monitor the position and trajectory of any vessels that appeared within the maritime boundaries of the 200 nautical mile EEZ or in the maritime waters just beyond that demarcation line.
Even today, the CGA lacks such technology or equipment, and even the establishment of an air patrol corps provided for in Article 17 of the Organic Act of the Coastguard Administration (海巡署組織法) has fallen victim to the government’s misguided cutbacks that effectively leave the maritime patrol fleet without onboard helicopters or land-based fixed wing surveillance aircraft.
As a result, it is unable to monitor in real time the movements of ships in relatively distant maritime waters, and it is also unable to deploy aircraft on support, reconnaissance or enforcement missions should the need arise.
Now that someone has been killed, having our president express his outrage or sympathy is not going to solve the problem. Our navy can do little but stand back and talk of “protecting fishermen.”
The CGA has spent billions of New Taiwan dollars on installing a coastal radar system that is only capable of monitoring the waters a few nautical miles out to sea, but remains unable to monitor 200 nautical miles out to the extent of the EEZ Taiwan lays claim to, and the Fisheries Agency cannot control the behavior of small fishing vessels.
Meanwhile, neither the Ministry of National Defense nor the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has the volition, backbone or knowledge needed. They are either unwilling or unable to engage in or exploit the dispute and to bring all the policy instruments at their disposal to bear to make us enter bilateral discussions with the Philippines to reach an agreement on maritime boundaries and maritime activity. Can the public still place their hopes in the government?
Nien-Tsu Alfred Hu is director of The Center for Marine Policy Studies at National Sun Yat-sen University and president of the Institute of Marine Affairs and Policy.
Translated by Paul Cooper