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Taiwan will continue to patrol Okinotori waters: spokesman

2016/05/25 23:16

CNA file photo

Taipei, May 25 (CNA) Government spokesman Tung Chen-yuan (童振源) said Wednesday that Taiwan will continue to send patrol vessels to protect its fishing boats in waters near the controversial Okinotori atoll when the current patrol mission there ends.

Since May 1, two coast guard cutters and a Council of Agriculture (COA) vessel have been patrolling the area near the Okinotori atoll, which lies 1,600 km east of Taiwan's southern tip.

The one-month patrol mission was launched by Taiwan's Coast Guard Administration (CGA) and the COA to protect Taiwanese fishing boats operating in the area after one of them was seized by Japan on April 25.

The fishing boat was released the following day after the owner paid a deposit of 6 million Japanese yen (US$54,442), as demanded by Japan.

Tung said that after the one-month patrol mission ends, the government will continue to dispatch patrol ships to protect Taiwanese fishing boats in the disputed waters near Okinotori. Japan claims a 200-mile exclusive economic zone around Okinotori, which it says is an island, while Taiwan claims the right to fish there, saying Okinotori is a reef.

"Depending on the actual needs of the fishing industry, the Taiwan government will include the Okinotori area in its annual open-sea patrol missions," Tung said. "The government is strongly committed to protecting our fishermen, and our efforts to protect them will not be discounted."

According to the CGA, its "Hsun Hu No. 9" and "Kaohsiung" patrol ships are doing a good job near the atoll.

The "Hsun Hu No. 9" will return to Taiwan for supplies later this month, but the "Kaohsiung" will remain there and will be replaced by the "Hsun Hu No. 9" in early June, the CGA said.

Meanwhile, during a legislative committee meeting, CGA Director- General Lee Chung-wei (李仲威) said Japanese vessels had withdrawn from the 200-mile zone.

He was challenged by Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Chuang Ruey-hsiung (莊瑞雄) to send his coast guard vessels into the 200-mile zone if the Japanese ships were still inside the zone.

"Can you do this?" Chuang asked.

"Yes, it's our principle, too," Lee responded.

However, Chung declined to answer the question of which country's vessels had departed first from the 200-mile zone.

Lee was invited to brief the legislative Internal Administration Committee on the issue Wednesday, after Kyodo News in Japan reported two days earlier that Taiwan's new government has informed Japan's foreign ministry that its patrol boats were being withdrawn ahead of schedule.

Taiwan and Japan clashed over the rights of Taiwanese fishermen to operate in waters near the Okinotori atoll in the Western Pacific after the Taiwanese fishing boat the "Tung Sheng Chi No. 16" was seized last month by the Japanese coast guard while operating in waters some 150 nautical miles from the atoll.

Taiwan's previous government, which stepped down May 20, argued that Okinotori is a reef and therefore not entitled to anything more than a 500-meter "security zone", which meant that the Taiwanese vessel had been operating in international waters.

The new government of Democratic Progressive Party, led by President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), traditionally has been more friendly toward Japan and has been more conciliatory on the issue.

(By Chen Chun-hua, Tai Ya-chen and S.C. Chang) Enditem/pc