Taipei, July 31 (CNA) A flotilla of fishing boats sailing to Taiping Island, the biggest island in the Spratly (Nansha) Islands in the South China Sea, returned to a Pingtung harbor with water, coconuts and sand from the island on Sunday morning.
The fishermen aboard five boats, who set out to demonstrate Taiping is an island under international law and assert the Republic of China's (Taiwan) sovereignty over the island and surrounding waters, returned to Pingtung's Yenpu (鹽埔) Fishing Port at 10 a.m. and were greeted by some 600 people.
After unloading water, coconuts, sea sand and bread from ships onto the dock, Cheng Chun-chung (鄭春忠), the organizer of the trip, thanked the five captains and said he organized and led the trip to express fishermen's concerns about their country's territory, in a press conference at the scene.
"Taiping is an island which belongs to Taiwan, why hasn't the government had asserted this fact?" Cheng asked.
Cheng said the departure date, July 20, was chosen by Royal Lord Wen, the main deity of Donglong Temple in the nearby Donggang Township, and the fact that the trip was not affected by Typhoon Nepartak or Tropical Storm Nida demonstrated Royal Lord Wen had protected the voyagers on their journey.
Opposition Kuomintang (KMT) Chairwoman Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱), who was also at the harbor to greet fishermen participating in the journey, told reporters on the sidelines of the press conference that public opinion polls showed most citizens considered that President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) should set foot on Taiping Island to assert Taiwan's sovereignty over the island and that the government should defend its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Hung said she regretted that Tsai and Premier Lin Chuan (林全) did not come to the port to show their concern for the issue.
The trip was something that should have originally been carried out by the government, but instead it was done by fishermen, who spent their time and money for the trip regardless of the possibility of being fined or punished by the government, said Hung.
Cheng said he did not accept donations for the trip, which cost him between NT$2 million to NT$3 million (US$93,948).
Hung gave a hug to Cheng and the two drank Taiping Island's water together.
Some 1,200 empty plastic bottles were offered to the well-wishers to allow them to take home fresh water shipped back from the island by the fishing boats.
The Fisheries Agency said it respects the flotilla's trip to assert the country's 200-nautical mile EEZ, but will deal with possible infringements against the Fisheries Act that may have been committed by any of the fishermen or fishing boats.
The possible infringements include violations of rules applying to vessels carrying live fish, fishing boat crew composition and employment of fishermen, said the agency.
The five boats sailed for Taiping Island on July 20 to assert its island status and reaffirm Taiwan's fishing rights in the South China Sea in response to a July 12 ruling by an international tribunal in The Hague that said Itu Aba (Taiping Island) is legally a "rock" under international law.
Three boats of the flotilla docked at Taiping Island on July 25, while another carrying three reporters from Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television set anchor in waters off the island. The last boat had mechanical problems and didn't finish the journey.
Coast Guard Administration officials at the Yenpu Port Inspection Office said they had carried out a security check and counted all people onboard the five fishing boats.
In response to media reports that the three reporters had been questioned at the port inspection office, the officials said this was not the case and reiterated that they had only carried out the security check and a tally of the boat crews.