The Coast Guard Administration (CGA) yesterday started to strengthen its protection of fishing boats catching fish in seas close to waters claimed by the Philippines, adding a vessel to patrol the region on a regular basis.
The 453-tonne patrol vessel Hualien set off for mission yesterday morning from Kaohsiung, carrying 35 armed crew members.
It was the second vessel that the CGA has sent in recent days to protect fishing boats working in waters claimed by the Philippines.
The CGA launched the action upon instructions from the Executive Yuan. The action is a response to the Philippines' repeated capture and detention of Taiwanese fishing boats for what authorities there say is illegal fishing activities in Philippine waters.
A spokesman for the CGA said the patrols will continue for as long as the Executive Yuan considers necessary.
"Our presence in the region might not be of too much help. But it is a mild way of handling fishing disputes between the two countries," the spokesman said.
"The navy is better qualified for the job. Using warships to protect fishing boats is very effective but should be taken as the last resort," he said. "Gunboat diplomacy might not be a good idea."
The CGA, as a law enforcer, maintained a low profile in the handling of the issue for it has yet to be determined which side was wrong in the fishing disputes.
The Ministry of National Defense has also been instructed by the Executive Yuan to provide necessary assistance to the CGA in the protection of fishermen.
Before the activation of the CGA three years ago, it was the marine police -- known as the Seventh Peace Preservation Corps -- ? which was responsible for the protection of fishing boats.
The marine police took over the job from the navy, which had provided protection to fishing boats for several decades.
The navy now is not interested in taking the job again, saying that it has more important things to do, such as guarding against Chinese ships of various kinds.
However, the navy must provide assistance if the CGA asks for help. In fact, the navy has sent warships to patrol parts of the East China Sea, where Taiwanese fishing boats last year were driven away several times by Japanese maritime authorities.
The navy's presence in the East China Sea is seen as having some effect, but authorities here say it cannot be a long-term solution. Both the CGA and navy hope that the government can solve fishing disputes through diplomatic means.