Two patrol boats yesterday left Kaohsiung for international waters near the Okinotori atoll in the Western Pacific in response to a directive from President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to protect Taiwanese fishing boats operating in the area.
The deployment of a Coast Guard Administration (CGA) ship and one belonging to the Fisheries Agency came after a Taiwanese fishing boat, the Tung Sheng Chi No. 16, was seized on Monday last week by the Japan Coast Guard while operating in waters about 150 nautical miles (228km) from the uninhabited atoll.
The boat and its crew were released the following day after the boat’s owner paid a security deposit demanded by Japanese authorities.
Japan claims a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone around the atoll, which it says is an island, but which Taiwan says is a reef and therefore is not entitled to anything more than a 500m “security zone.”
Taiwan lodged a protest with Japan and Ma instructed government agencies to step up protection for fishermen operating in waters near the atoll.
Coast guard officials told a news conference before the ships departed that the agency would adopt the principles of no evasion, no confrontation and no provocation in its protection of Taiwanese fishing boats operating in the area.
Photo: Hung Chen-hung, Taipei Times
However, CGA Deputy Director-General Yao Chou-tien (姚洲典) said that Taiwan would respond should Japan use water cannons or take unfriendly action against Taiwanese fishing vessels, adding that he hopes protection of fishing rights would be enforced peacefully and rationally.
The coast guard vessel is equipped with automatic cannons and machine guns.
Yao said the deployment conforms with the principle of freedom of fishing on the high seas stipulated in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and is part of the CGA’s routine patrol missions.
The two patrol boats have LED display boards showing a scrolling message: “We are exercising the freedom of fishing. Do not disturb,” in Chinese, English and Japanese.
It is expected to take them three to five days to reach the atoll.
Yao said the fishery protection program would last for one month.
There are 100 to 200 fishing boats from the port of Suao (蘇澳) in Yilan County and Pingtung County’s Donggang (東港) and Siaoliouciou (小琉球) operating in the area, according to Lin Ding-rong (林頂榮), director of the Fisheries Agency’s Deep Sea Fisheries Division.
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