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Taiwanese vessel approaches Diaoyutais to assert claim

2012/09/21 19:39:45

Taipei, Sept. 21 (CNA) A platform supply ship from Taiwan approached the disputed Diaoyutai Islands Friday to protest Japan's nationalization of the island chain, according to the Coast Guard Administration (CGA).

The Kaohsiung-based Ta Han 711 diverted to the Diaoyutai area after departing Keelung Habor in northern Taiwan late Thursday for Taichung Harbor in central Taiwan, the agency said in a statement.

The ship reached waters only 22.4 nautical miles off the contested island group the following morning, CGA officials said.

Although three Japanese patrol vessels were mobilzed to monitor the Taiwanese ship, the officials said, there was no standoff between the two sides.

According to the officials, CGA patrol vessel the Ho Hsing spotted early Friday that the Ta Han 711 was not moving on its designated course.

After learning via wireless communications of the Kaohsiung ship's intention to sail to the Diaoyutais, the Ho Hsing trailed it to ensure its safe passage.

When the Ta Han got close to the Diaoyutais, the Ho Hing was just 3.4 nautical miles behind, the officials said.

"The Ho Hsing escorted the protest ship throughout the whole process," a CGA official said.

The Tan Han has eight crew members, including six Taiwanese citizens and two Myanmar nationals.

Located some 100 nautical miles northeast of Taiwan, the Diaoyutai island cluster has been under Japanese administration since 1972, but is also claimed by Taiwan and China.

The long-simmering territorial spat escalated to a new level last week when the Japanese government bought three of the uninhabited group of islets from their private owner in an attempt to reinforce its sovereignty claim, a move that triggered strong protests in Taiwan and China.

CGA officials said the agency will offer full protection to Taiwanese ships that make voluntary protest cruises in line with the principles of "no conflict and no evasion."

"We will dispatch more than one patrol vessel to the waters near the Diaoyutais round the clock every day to protect our fishing rights and assert our sovereignty claim," the agency said in a statement.

Referring to the Ta Han, an AFP report quoted a Japanese coast guard official as saying Friday that a Taiwanese ship had been spotted in waters near Uotsurijima, the largest of the uninhabited islands.

"This ship is not a government-owned vessel. By speakers and wireless communications we are warning the ship not to enter our territorial waters," a spokesman for the Japanese coast guard's Okinawa branch was quoted as saying by telephone.

"The ship is insisting that the islands are part of their territory. They told us not to stand in their way," the AFP report cited the Japanese official as saying.

Banners reading "Protect Diaoyu" and "Reclaim Diaoyu" in Chinese were seen on board, the Japanese official said.

It was the first time since July that a protest ship from Taiwan had been seen in waters near the island group, the AFP report said.

Meanwhile, Japanese media reports said three fishery administration ships from China were also spotted in waters near the Diaoyutais that same day.

Seventeen Chinese maritime surveillance vessels and fishery administration ships have entered waters near the disputed island group, known as the Diaoyu Islands in China and the Senkaku Islands in Japan, since Sept. 18, according to Japan's Kyodo News Agency.

China's news media reported earlier in the week that more than 1,000 fishing boats from the coastal Chinese provinces of Fujian and Zhejiang were planning to sail to the Diaoyutais in the coming days now that a months-long fishing moratorium has expired.

The Japanese daily Yomiuri Shimbun reported Friday that the Chinese authorities have promised to offer subsidies to Chinese fishermen willing to operate in the disputed area.

One shipowner with five fishing boats in Zhejiang's Shipu area was quoted as saying that a Shipu fishing agency has agreed to offer 100,000 Chinese yuan in subsidies to each fishing boat operating in the Diaoyutai waters.

The Yomiuri Shimbun noted that 100,000 yuan (US$15,856) is a huge sum in comparison to the roughly 3,000 yuan a Chinese fishing crew member can make in a month.

(By Johson Sun, Tsao Heng and Sofia Wu)