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Coast guards to be disciplined over Chinese boat incursion: Minister

06/11/2024 02:50 PM
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Ocean Affairs Council Minister Kuan Bi-ling speaks to reporters on the sidelines of a legislative sitting in Taipei Tuesday. CNA photo June 11, 2024
Ocean Affairs Council Minister Kuan Bi-ling speaks to reporters on the sidelines of a legislative sitting in Taipei Tuesday. CNA photo June 11, 2024

Taipei, June 11 (CNA) The Coast Guard personnel managing radar operations and monitoring stations near Tamsui, New Taipei will be held responsible for a Sunday incident in which a Chinese speedboat illegally entered the Tamsui River mouth, Taiwan's top official in charge of ocean affairs said Tuesday.

The individuals will be disciplined for their negligence, Ocean Affairs Council (OAC) Minister Kuan Bi-ling (管碧玲) confirmed on the sidelines of a legislative sitting in Taipei. She did not disclose the number of people facing punishment, nor what kind of action will be taken.

Kuan's remarks were made after the OAC's Coast Guard Administration (CGA), which is responsible for safeguarding the nation's territorial waters, faced heavy criticism for failing to stop a Chinese national surnamed Ruan (阮) who allegedly drove a motorboat into a harbor near the mouth of the Tamsui River.

It was only after the speedboat collided with other vessels at a Tamsui ferry terminal, which prompted the operators to call the CGA, that CGA personnel finally arrested the Chinese man, who claimed to be trying to defect to Taiwan from China.

The incident drew attention from media and military experts because the Tamsui River is considered a critical strategic location and serves as the gateway to Taipei, the nation's political, economic and social capital, where the Presidential Office and other important government institutions are situated.

On Tuesday, Kuan said that CGA personnel responsible for radar operations and those working at a coastal lookout point will be held responsible for their poor judgement calls.

According to Kuan, the CGA first detected Ruan's 9-meter-long speedboat at about 11 a.m. on Sunday, around 6 nautical miles (11 kilometers) off the coast of Tamsui.

However, radar operators mistakenly thought the speedboat was a Taiwanese fishing vessel returning to its home port at Tamsui, Kuan said.

As the Chinese speedboat moved closer to the shore, a watch post in the Tamsui coastal area tasked with monitoring vessels approaching Tamsui failed to sound the alarm "because the watch post staffers said they had 30 vessels to monitor at the same time," according to Kuan.

Afterwards, another watch post in nearby Bali District informed the Tamsui watch post that the speedboat was not a Taiwanese fishing vessel. This information, however, was disregarded and no efforts were made to stop the boat for another 30 minutes, Kuan said.

"This case shows that the problem is not with the system but the people in charge," she added.

According to Kuan, the latest incident could be part of Chinese efforts to test Taiwan's coastal defense ability. Since 2023, at least 18 incursions have been reported in Taiwan, most of them on Taiwan-controlled islands near China.

More than half of the 18 incursions were stopped by CGA personnel. The rest were detected following tipoffs from fishers or local residents.

Kuan also said prosecutors are now questioning Ruan to determine if he had really been planning to defect to Taiwan.

The minister disclosed that Ruan was a retired People's Liberation Army's (PLA) naval member who had even served as a PLA boat captain.

According to the CGA, the 60-year-old Ruan was questioned by Taipei prosecutors on suspicion of violating the Act Governing Relations Between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (臺灣地區與大陸地區人民關係條例) and the Immigration Act (入出國及移民法).

The Shihlin District Prosecutors Office said the suspect has now been taken into custody by the National Immigration Agency pending further probes.

An unnamed source familiar with the incident told local media that Ruan had claimed he wanted to defect to Taiwan because he had made some anti-Chinese government comments on online messaging apps.

(By Wang Cheng-chung and Joseph Yeh)

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