Wed, Sep 16, 2009 - Page 4 News List

Yang demands sailors’ return

QUESTION OF SIZEThe KMT caucus secretary-general said the coast guard had demonstrated Taiwan’s military capability by sending ships that were larger than Japan’s

By Shih Hsiu-chuan and Flora Wang  /  STAFF REPORTERS, WITH AFP

Minister of Foreign Affairs Timothy Yang (楊進添) yesterday called for the return of Taiwanese sailors held in Japan accused of illegal fishing in disputed waters in the East China Sea and asked Japanese authorities to present evidence that the Taiwanese vessel crossed a temporary enforcement line.

Yang made the remarks at a meeting with the press yesterday.

Formosa Chieftain No 2, a 49-tonne sports fishing boat, was ­accosted on Sunday by Japanese maritime vessels for allegedly fishing illegally near the Diaoyutai (釣魚台) islands, Taiwan’s Coast Guard Administration (CGA) said. After Japan detained the skipper, Taiwan sent five coastguard vessels to the area, while Japan dispatched an equal number of ships, the CGA said.

Following negotiations, nine tourists on the boat were sent back to Taiwan on Monday night, but the captain and one other sailor remain in detention pending completion of a Japanese investigation into charges the ship was operating illegally in Japanese waters.

Yang demanded that Japan speed up its investigation and send the detained captain and crew member back to Taiwan quickly.

He said the Taiwanese government was still unable to determine whether the vessel was fishing in Japanese waters as Japan alleged because the boat’s positioning system was turned off when it was seized.

The East China Sea has been the scene of several disputes between China, Japan and Taiwan, all of which claim a chain of islets, known as Senkaku in Japanese and as the Diaoyutai islands in Chinese.

“Regardless of the claims to the area, this kind of incident could happen again, so we need a negotiation mechanism with Japan,” Yang said.

Yang also dismissed a report by the Chinese-language United Evening News that CGA officials who boarded the fishing boat to protect the crew members had been seized at one point by the Japanese.

At a separate setting yesterday, CGA Deputy Minister Wang Chung-yi (王崇儀) said the CGA officials refused to listen to the Japanese side.

“Japanese coast guards asked our men to leave the fishing boat twice but we rejected this because we needed to make sure our citizens were safe and treated fairly,” Wang said.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus yesterday shrugged off media criticism that the government had been weak in handling the incident.

KMT caucus secretary-general Lu Hsueh-chang (呂學樟) said the CGA had responded to this incident more quickly than it had to similar incidents in the past and had also demonstrated Taiwan’s military capability.

“The ships we sent were all bigger than theirs,” Lu said.

KMT caucus chief deputy ­secretary-general Lin Hung-chih (林鴻池) said the military should consider sending “high-level” military vessels to protect Taiwanese fishing boats near the disputed area.

“Whenever a fishing controversy happens, the government and fishermen are always forbearing, putting everyone in low spirits,” Lin said. “We should protect the nation’s sovereignty and the rights of fishermen.”

Democratic Progressive Party caucus whip Chai Trong-rong (蔡同榮) suggested Taiwan and Japan sit down and negotiate fishing rights as soon as possible.

Taipei and Tokyo have held 14 rounds of negotiations over territorial fishing disputes since 1996. They have yet to reach an agreement.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JIMMY CHUANG AND STAFF WRITER

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