The Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday urged the Japanese government to immediately release a Taiwanese fishing boat seized in disputed waters near the Okinotori atoll in the Pacific Ocean earlier yesterday.
The ministry said the Taiwanese fishing boat, Tung Sheng Chi No. 16, was chased by a Japan Coast Guard vessel on Sunday evening about 150 nautical miles (277.8km) east-southeast of the atoll and about 1,000 nautical miles east of Oluanpi (鵝鑾鼻), Taiwan proper’s southernmost tip.
Okinotorishima is a Japanese atoll that lies about halfway between Guam and Taiwan, and 1,700km from Tokyo. Beijing has long rejected Japan’s claim that the atoll is an island, describing it as a rock formation and saying that the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) around the atoll should not be recognized.
The ministry said Japan Coast Guard personnel boarded the Tung Sheng Chi No. 16 for inspection, before seizing the boat and arresting its crew.
In light of the debate over whether the Japanese government can claim a 200 nautical mile EEZ around Okinotorishima, Tokyo should respect Taiwan and other nations’ navigation and fishing rights in the area before the uninhabited coral reef’s legal status is determined by the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, the ministry said.
“The ministry has expressed its stance to the Japanese government: given the dispute regarding Okinotori’s status in the international community, concerned parties should negotiate the issue based on international law or seek a peaceful resolution through an international organization,” it said.
It said it cannot accept Japan’s seizure of Taiwanese fishing boats in disputed waters, adding that it has filed a complaint with the Japanese government and demanded the release of the Tung Sheng Chi No. 16 and its crew.
Liouciou Fishermen’s Association chief executive Tsai Pao-hsing (蔡寶興) said the Tung Sheng Chi No. 16 is a 79-tonne fishing vessel with a Taiwanese captain and a crew of nine from China and Indonesia.
“The association received a notification at 8:42am yesterday that the fishing boat was seized by Japan on grounds that it entered Japan’s EEZ,” Tsai said, adding that the waters surrounding Okinotorishima have been a primary fishing zone for Taiwanese fishermen.
Tsai said the Japanese atoll used to be a submerged coral reef before Tokyo heavily fortified the outcroppings with cement embankments and unilaterally extended its EEZ from 12 to 200 nautical miles.
As Taiwan does not recognize Japan’s unilateral expansion of Okinotorishima’s EEZ, Taiwanese fishermen are only advised not to sail within 12 nautical miles of the atoll, Tsai said, adding that Tokyo’s action has severely infringed on Taiwanese fishermen’s rights.
Additional reporting by Yeh Yung-chien