A Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmaker yesterday presented his research involving a former US vice consul to Taiwan in the 1950s to show that the disputed Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) and its surrounding waters are traditional fishing grounds of Taiwanese fishermen.
Between April 17 and April 23, 1955, the Free China was anchored off the Diaoyutais along with a Taiwanese fishing boat and found that the islands had been used as a shelter by Taiwanese fishermen, KMT Legislator Chiu Wen-yen (邱文彥) said.
Chiu called the press conference to release his findings drawn from his research on the voyage of the Free China in 1955 and e-mail correspondence with Calvin Mehlert, then-US counsel to Taiwan, and Paul Chow (周傳鈞), two of the six crewmembers who made the trip from Taiwan to San Francisco that year.
The Free China, a wooden junk constructed in Mawei in China’s Fujian Province in 1890, was the first Taiwanese boat to successfully sail across the Pacific Ocean solely using its sails and was the only one of its kind.
With five young men and Mehlert on board, the Free China left Keelung Harbor on April 4, 1955, to take part in a sailing competition in the US. Although it was unable to make it to the race because it lacked modern equipment and encountered storms along the way, it beat all the odds to arrive in San Francisco after 114 days at sea.
The boat was transported back to Taiwan last month onboard a Yang Ming Marine Transport cargo ship from Oakland, California, and is undergoing restoration at the National Museum of Marine Science and Technology in Keelung.
Intrigued by the image of crewmember Benny Hsu (徐家政) sitting on a cliff on “No-Man Island” waving his hands in the feature-length film Free China Junk — which documented the journey and was directed by Robin Greenburg — Chiu, a marine scientist, said he was curious to know the location of the island.
Chiu said he presumed the “No-Man Island” was one of the Diaoyutai Islands after he found a photograph taken by Mehlert featuring a peculiar rock on the island that resembles other photographs of the Diaoyutais that he had seen.
Chiu said his presumption was confirmed after he checked the daily records of the Free China’s voyage, nautical charts for the voyage and descriptions about geographical characteristics of the island in other literature, adding that Mehlert and Chow corroborated his research.
In an e-mail reply to Chiu, Chow said he believed the “No-Man Island” was one of the Diaoyutai Islands and that when the Free China was anchored at the Diaoyutais, Mehlert made several trips ashore and found wreckage and skeletons.
Chow said “small-boat fishermen in Keelung, particularly harpooners, have been using it as a shelter for as long as we could remember in our history.”
Mehlert said in an e-mail reply to Chiu that: “To my mind, your and our photos are conclusive evidence that our wurendao [無人島, No-Man Island] is one of the Diaoyutais. There just aren’t any other small islands in that area.”
Chiu’s findings would help the government assert its claim to sovereignty over the Diaoyutais against Japan, said Wang Ching-hsiu (王靚琇), deputy director of the Department of Land Administration.
Beijing also claims sovereignty over the disputed islands.
In related news, several members of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly yesterday conducted an inspection trip to waters off the Diaoyutais, prompting the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Tokyo to send a letter to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to register its concerns over and protest against the move.