Taipei, May 2 (CNA) A military vessel is sailing for waters near a Japan-controlled atoll in the western Pacific, keeping a distance from two patrol boats that departed from Kaohsiung on Sunday to protect Taiwanese fishing boats operating there.
The move comes after a Taiwanese fishing boat was seized on April 25 by the Japan Coast Guard while operating in waters some 150 nautical miles from the Okinotori atoll.
A military source said the Navy has sent a Lafayette-class frigate, but "the military vessel will not appear on the front line, though it can quickly come to the rescue in the event of any contingencies."
After arriving in waters around the Okinotori atoll, the frigate will sail for one week before being replaced by another Lafayette-class frigate until the end of May, the source said.
The choice of the Lafayette-class vessel was made because it is considered to be less of a combat ship and therefore less provocative, the source added.
Military spokesman Luo Shou-he (羅紹和) said that as a general practice the military follows government policy and deploys military vessels based on the principle of the "Coast Guard protecting fisherman, and the Navy supporting the Coast Guard."
Two patrol boats set off from Kaohsiung on Sunday for waters near the Japan-controlled atoll in the western Pacific to protect Taiwanese fishing boats operating there.
The two -- a nearly 2,000-ton Coast Guard Administration (CGA) vessel and a ship belonging to the Fishery Agency -- departed from the southern port city for waters near Okinotori atoll after Japan recently detained a Taiwanese fishing boat in the area.
Taiwan sent patrol boats after its fishing boat, the "Tung Sheng Chi No. 16," was seized on April 25 by the Japan Coast Guard while operating in waters some 150 nautical miles from Okinotori.
The boat and its crew were released on April 26 only after the owner of the boat paid 6 million Japanese yen (US$54,442) as a security deposit demanded by Japanese authorities, pending legal procedures.
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 is therefore not entitled to anything more than a 500-meter "security zone" around it.
Taiwan lodged a strong protest with Japan, and President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) 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.
(By Lu Hsin-hui and Lilian Wu)