Draft on armed escorts for fishermen proposed

By Tseng Wei-chen and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Tue, May 21, 2013 - Page 3

If passed, a draft amendment to the Fisheries Act (漁業法) would give fishermen passing the Strait of Malacca or the Gulf of Aden the right to hire private armed escorts of foreign nationality, the Legislative Yuan said yesterday.

However, if fishing boats operating within Taiwan’s territorial waters wish to hire domestic private armed guards for additional protection, further amendments to the Act on Regulating Firearms, Ammunition, Knives and Other Deadly Weapons (槍砲彈藥刀械管制條例) would be required, the Legislative Yuan said.

In light of the threats posed by pirates off the coast of Somalia, the Executive Yuan proposed amendments to the Fisheries Act and the Shipping Act (航業法).

The proposal, in accordance with Maritime Security Council (MSC) suggestions, calls for allowing merchant and fishing ships to hire private armed guards when operating in foreign waters, but passing through areas rife with piracy threats.

The Maritime Security Council, established in 1988, is a non-profit, member-driven organization representing related maritime industries throughout the world whose mission is the advancement of maritime security for the international maritime community.

Legislators across party lines said at the legislature’s Economics Committee meeting yesterday that while they approved of the amendment, it should be expanded to include conflicts within the South China Sea.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Kuan Bi-ling (管碧玲) said that the amendment should include the clause “under threat from illegally armed forces in high-risk areas” under the conditions for hiring private security guards.

Kuan said that the Executive Yuan’s proposal did not take events in Taiwan’s exclusive economic zones into consideration.

Kuan’s stance may have been influenced by the recent row between Taiwan and Manila in which a Taiwanese fishing ship was shot at by a Philippine Coast Guard patrol boat, killing 65-year-old Hung Shih-cheng (洪石成).

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lee Ching-hua (李慶華) said that civilian fishing operations in the Bashi Channel could not count on the Taiwanese government for aid because of slow response times.

KMT Legislator Ting Shou-chung (丁守中) also suggested that regulations on domestic security companies should be relaxed to allow retired military personnel to work in the companies.

The draft amendment that was passed by the committee said fishing vessels sailing in high-risk waters threatened by piracy with illegal arms may hire private armed guards for their protection.

The committee said that the central government will later pass a definition on what constituted “high risk waters threatened by piracy,” adding that the central government would also be making its information on security firms available to fishermen.

Meanwhile, Council of Agriculture Minister Chen Bao-ji (陳保基) said that fishing boats operating in waters within reach of the Coast Guard Administration (CGA) would be under the protection of the coast guard.

Commenting on the Philippines, Chen said that of all the nations sharing maritime borders with Taiwan, the Philippines was the only one that would actively attack with firearms.

A total of 22 ships flying the national flag of the Republic of China (ROC) have been harmed or detained by the Philippines, Chen said.

If the amendment is passed, the COA is “willing to declare the South China Sea as a high-risk territory until fisheries agreements with the Philippines have been settled,” Chen said.

However, Chen said that because firearms and any sort of weapons are under tight control in Taiwan, the issue of allowing fishing vessels to hire private security guards in Taiwan’s exclusive economic zone would have to be discussed with the Ministry of the Interior and the Act on Regulating Firearms, Ammunition, Knives and Other Deadly Weapons would have to be amended.