Wed, Apr 08, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Lawmakers say better protection needed for boats

STAFF WRITER, WITH CNA

Legislators across party lines yesterday urged the government to draw up measures to better protect the nation’s fishing fleet after a Taiwanese deep-sea fishing vessel was hijacked in the Indian Ocean.

Pirates wrested control of the Win Far 161 near the Seychelles on Monday.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus deputy secretary-general Lin Hung-chih (林鴻池) said future hijackings were a risk the government must consider.

“We need to study what resources are available to us,” Lin said. “Although we do not have diplomatic ties with many countries and the government may have some reservations about sending out military vessels to protect our fishing boats, the government should still draw up feasible plans [to do so].”

KMT Legislator Chang Hsien-yao (張顯耀) of the Foreign and National Defense Committee said the government should consider dispatching military vessels to protect fishing boats. It would also improve the nation’s visibility abroad, Chang said.

“Both the National Security Bureau and the Ministry of National Defense [MND] have said before that they would take action to protect fishermen, but their words speak louder than their actions. We feel the government needs to shoulder the responsibility for Monday’s hijacking,” Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Tsai Huang-liang (蔡煌瑯) said.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) yesterday said it was closely monitoring the movement of the Win Far 161, but had no news regarding the safety of its crew members.

Of the 30 crew members, two, the skipper and the first engineer, are Taiwanese, five are Chinese, 17 are Filipinos and six are Indonesian.

“The ministry cannot confirm any casualties ... because we lost contact with the vessel yesterday,” MOFA spokesman Henry Chen (陳銘政) said yesterday morning. “But based on past experience, their safety should not be a problem if the pirates are only looking to collect a ransom.”

The hijackers have yet to demand a ransom, he said.

MOFA is trying to obtain updates on the situation through its representative office in South Africa and has sought the assistance of the UK Maritime Trade Organization, the maritime liaison office of the US’ Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet, the Seychelles fishery bureau and the Somali harbor bureau.

The ministry was in contact with the US and the UK on rescuing the fishermen, Chen said.

Later yesterday, the Central News Agency reported that Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu (姜瑜) said China would help rescue the vessel.

In response, Chen said the ministry appreciated the offer.

“We thank all countries that have expressed concern over the situation,” he said.

When asked for comment, KMT caucus secretary-general Yang Chiung-ying (楊瓊瓔) said the party was thankful for China’s gesture.

Tsai said: “If China helps rescue the vessel, we would welcome it, but it would be based on international humane concerns.”

But relying on outside help is not a long-term solution, he said.

Separately, the ministry said yesterday the Navy was capable of protecting Taiwanese vessels, but details needed to be discussed before deploying ships to the site of the hijacking.

“The fleet would have to sail through [the waters of] many countries that do not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan,” MND Spokesman Major General Yu Sy-tue (虞思祖) said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY FLORA WANG, MEGGIE LU,JIMMY CHUANG AND MO YAN-CHIH

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