A Hong Kong ship with activists planning to visit disputed islands to protest Japan's claim over them defied coast guard warnings and briefly entered Japanese territorial waters yesterday before turning back, officials said.
Japan coast guard official Koji Yoshida said the ship came within 13km of the islands, despite warnings to stay away by coast guard vessels that sprayed water at the ship with fire hoses.
Called Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese, the islands are controlled by Japan but are also claimed by China and Taiwan. They are surrounded by rich fishing grounds and are regularly occupied by nationalists from either side.
The ship left Japanese territorial waters late yesterday morning, said Satoru Nagayo, another coast guard official.
Officials could not confirm how many people were aboard the ship.
The group said about 25 activists departed in the ship from Hong Kong on Sunday to hold a peaceful protest on the islands against Japan's sovereignty claim.
A spokesman for the activists said they decided to abandon their attempt to land on the islands, alleging that Japanese vessels had rammed their ship.
"Although the ship can move, if it continues toward the Diaoyu Islands, the Japanese vessels will step up their ramming, and the ship's captain and the commander of the campaign have decided the ship will sink if it's rammed any more, so they've decided to return to Hong Kong," Ku Kwai-yiu said.
Ku said the ship's railings on both its sides and its bow were damaged, but the passengers were unharmed.
Albert Ho (
Takatoshi Nagasaki of the coast guard said he had not heard that Japanese vessels damaged the Hong Kong ship.
The voyage marked the 10th anniversary of the death of Hong Kong activist David Chan (
Japan claimed the islands in 1895 when it colonized Taiwan, but the US controlled them after World War II and returned them to Japan in 1972.
Though China and Japan have built vibrant economic links, they remain at odds over a spate of issues including undersea gas and oil deposits and visits by Japanese officials to a Tokyo war shrine that honors Japan's war dead, including executed war criminals.