Mon, Jan 19, 2009 - Page 3 News List

Gravel shippers to stage protest

GRAVEL GRIPE The chairman of the Taiwan Association of Gravel Importers said the government officials involved 'seem to be working for the Chinese, not for us'

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

Local gravel shipping operators are set to stage a demonstration at the Executive Yuan today to protest the direct sea transportation links agreement signed in November with China.

Taiwan Association of Gravel Importers spokesman Cheng Yung-ming (鄭永明) said they planned to gather at the Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall at 9am and then proceed along Zhongshan N Road to the Executive Yuan, where they would stage a protest and present a petition.

Cheng said they would like the government to nullify the agreement on direct sea links, or they would not rule out the possibility of using their ships to stage a protest at the Port of Taipei after the Lunar New Year holidays.

Last month, the group made a similar threat if they did not receive a positive response from the government by Jan. 1. Cheng said they eventually scrapped the plan because the Ministry of Transportation and Communications had told them it would take care of the matter.

Association chairman Hsiao Sheng-chi (蕭勝旗) said they were very disappointed with the way the government had handled the matter.

“It has been more than half a month, but things are still the same,” he said.

Hsiao said they had voiced their concern before the agreement was signed and expressed the hope that they could talk to officials at the ministry face to face. They had also petitioned the Presidential Office on several occasions, but it had all fallen on deaf ears, he said.

Cheng said they were not going to trust the government any more, adding that the agreement on direct sea transportation links did not benefit Taiwan.

“Officials at the transportation ministry and the Mainland Affairs Council [MAC] seem to be working for the Chinese, not for us,” Hsiao said.

Cheng said Straits Exchange Foundation Chairman Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤) has been trying to talk him out of pursuing the shippers’ case. Chiang also told him that he could not do anything to help because the MAC had not authorized him to negotiate, Cheng said.

Since Jan. 1, Cheng said 15 of the association’s ships have stopped operating and that they had lost NT$73 million (US$2.3 million) in the last half a month.

Cheng has two ships that have been transporting gravel from China since 2000. He said he cannot afford to sell them because each cost him more than NT$300 million, but now he could only sell them for about NT$30 million.

China has approved 10 of its own ships for the direct sea transportation links, but Cheng said five of them had never shipped sandstone before. The five Taiwanese ships authorized to transport gravel across the Strait before the agreement was signed must apply for new permits from both Taiwan and China, but China had approved only three, he said.

What is worse is that the three ships cannot transport river sand, which is more popular because of its better quality and accounts for more than 75 percent of the local gravel market, Cheng said. Rive sand can only be shipped by their Chinese counterparts, while Taiwanese ships can ship only artificial sand and pebbles, Cheng said.

Although Taiwanese shippers could file applications for China’s single-trip permits or long-term permits, Cheng said, China has yet to approve any application from Taiwanese shippers.

Taiwanese without a permit can no longer enter Chinese ports because the Chinese government has banned Chinese shipping agencies from sponsoring their ships, he said.

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