The Japanese government yesterday released a Taiwanese fishing vessel and its crew who were recently seized by the Japan Coast Guard in disputed waters near the Okinotori atoll, after the vessel’s owner reportedly fulfilled Tokyo’s demand and wired millions of Japanese yen as a “security deposit.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the vessel’s Taiwanese captain was released in Japan’s Yokohama at 4:40pm Tokyo time and was set to board an aircraft heading to the island of Iwo Jima at 6pm yesterday.
He was then due to transfer to a helicopter taking him to his fishing boat, Tung Sheng Chi No. 16, which was docked nearby Iwo Jima and where his nine Chinese and Indonesian crew members have been held, the ministry said, adding that the fishing boat was scheduled to sail back to Taiwan in the early hours of today.
Tung Sheng Chi No. 16 was confiscated by Japan’s coast guard on Monday morning when it was sailing about 150 nautical miles (277.8km) east-southeast of Okinotorishima, a Japanese atoll of which the legal status is disputed.
The releases of the fishing boat and its crew were granted after the vessel’s owner and the captain’s father, Pan Chung-chiu (潘忠秋), transferred ￥6 million (US$54,240) as a “security deposit” through the Liouciou Fishermen’s Association to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Japan at 9am yesterday.
The office subsequently handed over the money to the Yokohama division of the Japan Coast Guard.
According to Pan, Japan had said that if the payment was not received by noon yesterday, it would transport the fishing boat along with its crew to Japan and ask for NT$8 million (US$245,920) instead.
“We decided to wire the security deposit and let the ministry do its own negotiations with Japan, because things might get trickier if the negotiations go awry and my boat and staff are taken to Tokyo,” Pan said.
Liouciou Fishermen’s Association chief executive Tsai Pao-hsing (蔡寶興) said that while paying the security deposit could be tantamount to recognizing Japan’s unilateral expansion of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) around the atoll from 12 to 200 nautical miles, the association respected Pan’s decision to pay the money.
“Making the payment does not mean an admission of wrongdoing,” Tsai said, urging the government to toughen its stance, get back Pan’s money and dispatch patrol vessels to protect Taiwanese fishermen operating in waters surrounding the Okinotori atoll.
The ministry said it helped hand over the security deposit to Japan out of respect for the desire of the captain’s family to secure his return.
“The payment does not suggest that the government has given its tacit consent to Japan’s claim of a 200 nautical mile EEZ around the atoll,” the ministry said, calling on Japan to respect Taiwan and other nations’ navigation and fishing rights in the area before the uninhabited coral reef’s legal status is determined by the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.
The ministry added that the “security deposit” would only be returned if concerned parties remain cooperative throughout the entire legal processes and are acquitted in Japan.
The money would be confiscated should they fail to appear in court.
Earlier yesterday, ministry spokeswoman Eleanor Wang (王珮玲) said it was not the first time Japan had arrested Taiwanese fishermen operating in waters surrounding the atoll.