The Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) yesterday said that the changes to the Regulations Governing the Approval and Administration of Direct Cross-Strait Sea Transport between the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (臺灣地區與大陸地區海運直航許可管理辦法) do not apply to military vessels and fishing boats, adding that the amendment helps the nation effectively regulate Chinese ships passing through the nation’s restricted and prohibited waters.
Legal experts have criticized the amendment to the regulations proposed by the ministry, saying that it would threaten national security by allowing Chinese ships to navigate freely in the nation’s restricted and prohibited waters, as long as they apply 24 hours before arrival.
Aside from questioning the necessity of such an amendment, the critics said it failed to provide clear definitions on what they mean by “vessels” and said it would only impose additional burdens on the agency.
Jao Chih-ping (饒智平), a specialist at the ministry’s Department of Navigation and Aviation, yesterday said that Article 17 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea states that ships of all states enjoy right of passage through territorial waters.
“However, given the special relations between Taiwan and China, we have set up seven checkpoints around the nation’s waters through which the Chinese vessels must pass before entering the navigation routes designated for them. Any Chinese ship passing through our restricted or prohibited waters has to turn on its marine communication radio channel and automatic identification system during the trip. It must navigate along the designated route all the way to the seaport at which it is supposed to dock. The mechanism functions pretty well so far,” he said.
Jao said that the regulations were amended to enable the MOTC to enforce the act, he said.
“Articles 28, 29 and 30 in the Act [Governing the Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (臺灣地區與大陸地區人民關係條例)] are to regulate shipping around the Taiwan Strait, with Article 29 specifically regulating Chinese ships. However, no article in the regulations was about the enforcement of Article 29,” Jao said.
Jao said shipping through the nation’s waters has increased dramatically following the launch of direct shipping across the Taiwan Strait. While some ships cross the Taiwan Strait, others simply pass through the waters around the nation’s outlying islands, he said.
“Without the amendment to the regulations, the nation would have to chase away Chinese ships entering the nation’s waters, intentionally or accidentally,” Jao said. “I think it’s in our best interest to regulate them by stipulating specific legislation instead. Those wanting to pass through the nation’s waters need to apply for permission first and follow our instructions. We are entitled to deny their applications or detain the ships if they fail to follow our instructions on navigation routes.”
The regulations apply only to cross-strait passenger and cargo ships, Jao said, adding that Chinese military vessels fall under the purvey of the national security and defense agencies.