Taipei, April 27 (CNA) President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) issued a stern statement Wednesday condemning Japan's detention of a Taiwanese fishing boat in a disputed area of the Pacific, saying Japan's claim that Okinotori Atoll is an island violates international law.
In a national security meeting held in response to the incident, Ma vowed to safeguard Taiwanese fishermen's rights, defend their freedom to fish on the high seas and "oppose Japan's illegal expansion of power."
Citing Article 121 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Ma said that Okinotori is a "reef" and not an "island," because it is less than 3 pings (9.9 square meters) in area and cannot sustain human habitation and economic life.
Therefore, Japan cannot claim rights over an exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles and a continental shelf, Ma added.
Article 121 of the convention states that "rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf."
Japan's definition of Okinotori as an "island" goes against the convention and is an "illegal expansion of power," which the Taiwan government refuses to recognize, Ma said.
He added that Japan's detention of the Taiwanese fishing boat "Tung Sheng Chi No. 16" Monday and its demand for a deposit to free the ship and its crew also violated the freedom to fish on the high seas as stipulated in Article 87 of the convention.
Ma said he has instructed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Taiwan's representative office in Japan to express the country's solemn stance on the issue to Japan.
He has also instructed government agencies to propose immediate plans to safeguard Taiwanese fishermen's rights on the high seas, and to seek viable international channels to resolve the case, Ma said.
The "Tung Sheng Chi No. 16," which is registered in Pingtung County, was detained by the Japanese coast guard early Monday in waters 150 nautical miles east-southeast of Okinotori, an uninhabited atoll that belongs to Japan.
On Monday, Kyodo News cited the Japanese coast guard's Yokohama branch as saying that the Taiwanese fishing boat was stopped and its captain arrested on the spot because the boat was operating within Japan's exclusive economic zone without permission.
Japan threatened to prosecute the crew unless a security deposit of 6 million yen (NT$1.76 million) was received by noon Tuesday.
The boat owner, Pan Chung-chiu (潘忠秋), remitted the full amount to Taiwan's representative office in Japan for transfer to the Japanese authorities Tuesday, and the vessel, its Taiwanese captain and nine crew members were released later that day.
(By Hsieh Chia-chen and Christie Chen)
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