Mon, Dec 25, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Coast guard steps up South China Sea patrols

AFP , TAIPEI

The Coast Guard Administration has stepped up patrols in the disputed South China Sea after local fishermen complained that they were harassed and robbed by Vietnamese pirates, it was reported yesterday.

The move came as the nation is building a runway on Itu Abu, known as Taiping Island, in the disputed Spratly chain, known locally as the Nansha Islands, sparking protests from Vietnam.

extended patrols

The coast guard, whose patrol vessels previously sailed to the Pratas Islands, known locally as the Dongsha Islands, once every month, have extended patrols to the disputed Paracel Islands, known locally as the Sisha Islands, which are about 1,100km from Taiwan, the Chinese-language Liberty Times (the Taipei Times' sister newspaper) said.

The Pratas Islands are some 455km from Taiwan.

The new patrol area also covers waters off the disputed Macclesfield Bank, or Zhongsha Islands, it said.

"There were frequent reports of pirates ransacking fishing and cargo vessels sailing through that area," Cheng Chang-hsiung, head of the Maritime Patrol Directorate General, told the daily.

"Local fishermen also complained that their fishing nets and catches were stolen by Vietnamese fishermen," Cheng said.

unimpressed

However, Taiwanese fishermen were unenthusiastic about the expanded coast guard patrol, saying it did little to protect local fishing boats operating off the Spratlys, a major fishing ground for about 200 fishing vessels from southern Taiwan.

In January, Taiwan rejected Vietnam's demand that it stop building a runway on Itu Abu.

Vietnam's foreign ministry had described the building of the runway as a "severe violation of Vietnam's sovereignty."

They also said it would have a negative impact on peace, stability and regional cooperation.

Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, China, Malaysia, and the Philippines claim all or part of the potentially oil-rich Spratlys. All except Brunei have troops based on the archipelago of more than 100 islets, reefs and atolls. The island chain has a land mass of less than 5km2.

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