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Survey ship harassed by Japanese in Taiwan's economic zone: MOFA

ROC Central News Agency

2012/08/06 20:46:23

Taipei, Aug. 6 (CNA) A marine survey ship that cut short its mission a day early on Sunday after being harassed by a Japanese Coast Guard aircraft was in a part of Taiwan's exclusive economic zone that overlaps with Japan's, an official said Monday.

According to Japanese media reports, the survey ship from National Taiwan Ocean University (NTOU) was spotted operating in Japan's 200 nautical-mile economic zone near Hateruma Island in Okinawa Prefecture.

Hateruma Island is about 120 nautical miles directly east of Yilan County in Taiwan and about 260 nautical miles southwest of the island of Okinawa.

The Maritime Safety Agency of Japan sent aircraft to ask the Taiwanese university survey vessel to depart the area as soon as possible, the reports said.

Commenting on the reports, Su Chi-cheng, deputy secretary-general of the Association of East Asian Relations under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), said the NTOU survey ship was operating in an area where the two countries have overlapping exclusive economic zone claims.

Taiwan and Japan are still negotiating the issue, Su said.

Gong Gwo-ching, a professor with NTOU's Institute of Marine Environmental Chemistry and Ecology who headed the mission, said the ship left Keelung on Aug. 3 to survey the impact of Typhoon Saola on marine biological and ecological systems in the northwestern Pacific Ocean off Taiwan's eastern coast.

Gong's team was scheduled to conduct surveys at nine locations, but when the team reached the final stop some 60 nautical miles off Hateruma Island, a Japanese coast guard aircraft interfered with its operations.

"We originally planned to stay in the area for 10 hours to complete our survey, but decided to cut short our work and start back after Japan's intervention," said Gong, whose team returned to Keelung Sunday evening, a day ahead of schedule.

It is not uncommon for the NTOU's survey ships to be interfered with by Japanese helicopters or patrol vessels during their survey missions, Gong said.

The survey ships are most likely to be harassed by Japan's Coast Guard ships or aircraft when passing through waters surrounding the disputed Tiaoyutai Islands in the East China Sea.

Some team members complained that if Japan were to truly define waters within 200 nautical miles off its small islets as its exclusive economic zone, none of Taiwan's ships could sailed out of the country's harbors.

A team member said Japan has become especially sensitive toward Taiwanese ships moving close to its small islands west or southwest of Okinawa probably because the Tiaoyutai territorial dispute has re-emerged as a hot topic in recent months.

The Tiaoyutais are a group of uninhabited islands located some 100 nautical miles northeast of Taiwan and are also claimed by China and Japan.

On Sunday, President Ma Ying-jeou proposed a peace initiative to address the dispute, urging neighboring countries to show restraint and to seek peaceful means to settle the issue and turn the East China Sea from a flashpoint into a "sea of cooperation."

Under what he called "the East China Sea Peace Initiative," Ma urged all parties to refrain from taking hostile actions, shelve controversies, observe international law and resolve disputes via peaceful means.

(By Claudia Liu and Sofia Wu)

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