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Taiwan patrol boats sail for disputed waters

ROC Central News Agency

2016/05/01 14:24:14

Kaohsiung, May 1 (CNA) Two patrol boats deployed by the government embarked Sunday from Kaohsiung for international waters near a Japan- controlled atoll in the Western Pacific to protect Taiwan fishing boats operating in the area.

In response to a directive issued by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), a nearly 2,000-ton Coast Guard Administration (CGA) vessel and a ship belonging to the Fishery Agency under the Council of Agriculture (COA) departed from the southern port city for waters near Okinotori atoll to protect Taiwan fishing ships operating there.

The move came after a Taiwan fishing boat, the "Tung Sheng Chi No. 16," was seized April 25 by the Japanese coast guard while operating in waters some 150 nautical miles from Okinotori.

The boat and its crew were released April 26 only after the owner of the boat paid 6 million Japanese yen (US$54,442) as a deposit demanded by the Japanese.

Japan claims a 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone around the tiny atoll, but Taiwan argues that Okinotori is a reef rather than an island -- as Japan defines it -- and therefore is not entitled to anything more than a 500-meter "security zone" around it.

Taiwan lodged a strong protest with Japan, and Ma instructed relevant government agencies to step up protection for local fishermen operating in waters near the atoll.

Okinotori is about 860 nautical miles east of Eluanbi, the southernmost point of Taiwan.

The CGA announced Sunday at a pre-depature press conference that it will adopt the principles of no evasion, no confrontation and no provocation in its protection of Taiwan fishing boats operating in the area.

However, CGA Deputy Director-General Yao Chou-tien (姚洲典) said that Taiwan will take responsive measures should Japan use water cannons or take unfriendly action against Taiwanese fishing vessels, and he expressed hope that fishing rights protection can be enforced peacefully and rationally.

The CGA vessel is equipped with automatic cannon and machine guns.

According to Yao, the move is in conformity with the principle of freedom of fishing on the high seas stipulated in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and is part of the CGA's routine patrol missions.

The two patrol boats with an LED display board showing a scrolling text message "We are exercising the freedom of fishing. Do not disturb," in Chinese, English and Japanese, will take 3-5 days to make the 863-nautical-mile journey to the atoll.

Yao said the fishery protection program, devised to guarantee the safety of Taiwanese fishing boats in a peaceful and rational manner, will last for one month.

There are 100-200 fishing boats from Su'ao in Yilan, Donggang and Xiaoliuqiu in Pingtung operating in the area, according to Lin Ding-rong (林頂榮), director of the Fisheries Agency's Deep Sea Fisheries Division.

(By Liu Chien-pang, Wang Shwu-fen, Elaine Hou, Flor Wang and
Evelyn Kao)

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