Taiwan stages maritime exercise to protect fishermen
ROC Central News Agency
Taipei, May 16 (CNA) Navy and Coast Guard Administration (CGA) personnel conducted a joint drill Thursday in waters south of Taiwan to show the government's determination to protect Taiwanese fishermen operating there, following the recent killing of a Taiwanese fisherman by a Philippine government vessel.
The drill, which came after the May 9 shooting that caused the fisherman's death, saw Navy and CGA personnel demonstrating cooperation in maritime rescue operations and their ability to protect Taiwan's fishing rights.
Before the joint drill, the Ma Kong, a Kidd-class destroyer, also crossed the 20 degrees north latitude line, in waters near the location of the shooting. It was the first time the 10,500-ton warship had entered the area to assist the CGA in its efforts to protect Taiwanese fishermen, the Navy said. The warship went as far as some 17 nautical miles beyond the 20 degrees north latitude line before heading back to Taiwan, according to the Navy.
The CGA said it usually goes as far south as 20 degrees north to protect local fishing boats. That boundary may now change.
Three military vessels -- the Ma Kong and two Lafayette-class frigates -- took part in the drill with the CGA vessels.
Early Thursday, all the participating vessels at one point entered the waters around the Batan islands in northern Philippines, a move seen as part of the government's efforts to protect Taiwanese fishermen.
The exercise included a simulation of an operation in which an S-70C rescue helicopter was dispatched from Taiwan to airlift a fisherman following a man overboard emergency.
The drill also incorporated an anti-submarine S-70C helicopter from one of the frigates, which conducted a patrol mission.
Meanwhile, two Mirage 2000-5 jet fighters were deployed from Hsinchu Airbase in northern Taiwan to take part in the exercise.
The drill came amid escalating tension between Taiwan and the Philippines in the wake of the fatal shooting in waters where the exclusive economic zones of Taiwan and the Philippines overlap.
The Navy said it has beefed up its protection of Taiwanese fishermen operating in the area by sending more frigates and expanding the area of their patrols.
The CGA has also dispatched more vessels to patrol the area.
The Kidd-class destroyer and one of the Lafayette-class frigates set sail Wednesday from Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan, to take part in the exercise.
After the joint drill with the CGA, the destroyer went ahead with its own exercise later in the day, which included a simulated launch of two surface-to-air Standard Missile-2 missiles on board.
The Navy's moves came one day after Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, in response to Taiwan's demands, apologized to Taiwan over the shooting by a Philippine government vessel.
The Navy rejected speculation that the drill had been scaled down following the Philippines' apology.
"The drill was not downsized," Wen Zhen-kuo, director-general of the Navy's Political Warfare Office told the local media. "It was carried out as planned."
"The drill was held successfully," he added.
The Navy has carried out many missions to protect Taiwanese fishing boats, but Thursday's drill was "particularly meaningful," said Capt. Peng Chiao-ming after the exercise.
The soldiers and officials on the Kidd-class destroyer were all angered by the Philippines' attack on the Taiwanese fishing boat and felt honored to participate in the drill, an official on board said.
(By Elaine Hou)
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