Although media attention has recently been drawn to the large numbers of Chinese sand dredgers in the waters around Matsu, this situation has been going on for at least three years.
From their initial incursions around Dongju (東莒) and Xiju (西莒) islands, the number of dredgers has swelled to reach the waters around Nangan (南竿) and even farther north around Beigan (北竿).
The unwanted visits have significantly affected Matsu’s topography and marine resources, as well as its tourism. Bottom-dwelling organisms are in crisis, coastal sands are experiencing beach drift and gravel is being left exposed.
Despite the central government repeatedly declaring that the coastal border regions are to be protected and coastal patrols trying to prevent illegal incursions by sand dredgers, law enforcement resources are limited and the situation is deteriorating.
Matsu is home to a sparse population spread out over many islands that cover a large area. The patrols need to be conducted in shifts and, with a shortage of personnel, there are less than 50 available to go on patrol. Providing around-the-clock coverage from the bases in Nangan, Juguang (莒光) and Dongyin (東引) townships is no easy task.
More people must be recruited for coastal patrols, but law enforcement in Matsu has its own special demands.
A lack of incentives for law enforcement working on the front line also significantly affects their enthusiasm for the task. Seizing smuggled goods, narcotics and stowaways has its rewards, but risking life and limb by boarding 10,000-tonne dredgers from a 100-tonne patrol vessel is dangerous, and offers little by way of incentive.
The Executive Yuan has proposed confiscating dredging vessels caught illegally sand mining. Each vessel could bring NT$30 million to NT$100 million (US$1.04 million to US$3.46 million) at auction. If the central government could use even just 10 percent as awards for the seizure of vessels, it might be enough to incentivize law enforcement personnel.
The small area of sea under Matsu’s jurisdiction also makes law enforcement difficult. Existing laws give Kinmen and Matsu control of a fraction of the exclusive economic zone surrounding Taiwan proper. Their waters are limited to 6km around the baseline of inhabited islands or islets, or those with a military presence. The subsequent jurisdiction is extremely limited, generally not even covering the sea passage between islands.
Many dredgers know to skirt the 6km zone, making it more difficult for patrols to enforce the law. Regulations are out of step with what is happening at sea and need to be changed.
The resources available for seizing goods and detaining crew members are also inadequate, making consistent enforcement difficult. Matsu lacks essential port facilities. It can only accommodate two to three vessels for seizing and detaining dredgers.
Detention facilities are also severely underfunded and limited. If ships could be quickly inspected and transferred to larger port terminals in the nation, and crew members sent to larger law enforcement agencies and held in detention facilities there, it would help Matsu considerably.
Sand dredgers create noise and light pollution, cause conservation problems and significantly affect the lives of residents, as well as impede the development of tourism.
The central government needs to address the problems encountered by front-line personnel and alleviate the difficulties experienced by Matsu residents.
Patrick Su is a director of the Matsu Residents’ Association.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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