The Coast Guard Administration (CGA) is to buy thermal imaging devices and drones to boost its efforts in deterring Chinese fishing boats from intruding into the nation’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), CGA Director-General Lee Chung-wei (李仲威) said on Wednesday.
Lee made the announcement at a meeting of the legislature’s Internal Administration Committee, during which lawmakers demanded that the coast guard boost its efforts to protect the nation’s EEZ, saying that his agency is also mulling heavier punishments for trespassing ships.
Lee was reporting to the committee in connection with the suspension of the CGA’s budget, a measure imposed by the committee last year following a string of mishaps at sea.
China’s 1.06 million fishing boats comprise a quarter of the world’s total, a fact that other nations with claims in the South China Sea take seriously, Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Lai Jui-lung (賴瑞隆) said.
Lai asked Lee to explain why other nations have been detaining more Chinese fishing boats than the CGA, and whether he thinks the government has been “soft” on Chinese incursions.
The detention period is more than 30 days, Lee said, adding that the penalties have been mostly adequate in reducing the number of incursions.
He said that the high number of Chinese boats and their use of poor weather conditions to trespass Taiwan’s EEZ pose problems, but added that the coast guard is managing those issues by the forward deployment of its patrol ships.
Fishing boats that trespass on Taiwan’s EEZ without conducting operations are chased away, while those that are engaged in active operations are boarded and detained, Lee said.
On average, the coast guard fines EEZ trespassers NT$1 million (US$32,976), which is low compared with the legally allowed limit of NT$10 million, Lai said.
Lai said Chinese fishing boats could afford to pay the fines during mullet roe season, adding that insufficient penalties might have encouraged Chinese fishing crews to test Taiwan, because other nations occasionally sank trespassers in their EEZ.
Lee said the coast guard might consider imposing heavier fines for EEZ incursions.
Lai then asked what technology and equipment are available to the CGA.
Lee said the coast guard’s radar systems cannot identify the type of the vessels they detect, and that his agency has made plans to buy thermal imaging devices and surveillance drones to address those flaws, adding that the Executive Yuan is in the process of reviewing them.
If the Executive Yuan approves the plans, the coast guard would begin purchasing the equipment as early as the end of this year, Lee said.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Huang Chao-shun (黃昭順) said the government was too passive on sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea.
Huang said President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) government is “intimate with the US and obsequious to Japanese.”
She said the CGA should confront Japan over the Okinotori atoll and other issues to protect the interest of Taiwanese fishermen.
People First Party Legislator Chen Yi-chieh (陳怡潔) said Japan has refused to concede fishing rights to Taiwan in the seas near Okinotori, and the government’s policy for appeasing Japan and showing weakness would encourage Japanese transgressions.
The coast guard should step up its protection of Taiwanese fishing interests, “otherwise we might as well ask the Japan Self-Defense Force to patrol for us,” she said.
Lee said the government is pushing for the nation’s interests in negotiations with Japan, adding that its position that the waters between 12 nautical miles and 200 nautical miles (22.2km and 370.4km) from the atoll should be considered international waters has not changed.
The coast guard’s commitment to protect the nation’s fishermen and to bolster the defense of Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island, 太平島) is firm, he said, adding that the government believes that the nations in the region should set aside the disputes in favor of cooperation in economic development.
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