Taipei-Taiwan reiterated Thursday that its fishermen have the right to enter and fish in waters near the Japan-held Okinotori atoll in the western Pacific, and said the relevant government agency had dealt with the matter of five fishing boats being chased by Japanese patrol ships the previous day.
Taiwan maintains that the waters around the atoll are contested areas and that any disputes should be resolved peacefully in accordance with international law, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said.
"Until the legal status of the waters around Okinotori is decided, Japan should respect our ships' right of free navigation and operation on the open sea near the atoll," the foreign ministry said.
It said it will continue to seek to resolve fishery disputes with Japan through dialogue and consultation.
The Fisheries Agency was assigned to deal with an incident that occurred Wednesday when five Taiwanese fishing boats in waters near Okinotori were chased away by Japanese patrol vessels that claimed they were "carrying out" their duty, the ministry said.
However, Tsai Pao-hsin (???), secretary general of the Ryukyu Fishermen's Association in Taiwan, took issue with the Fisheries Agency's handling of the matter.
He said that at 6 p.m. Wednesday, the agency sent an urgent warning to the five fishing boats that Japanese patrol vessels were approaching and advised that they leave the area to avoid unnecessary losses.
That warning was tantamount to saying that the area was part of Japan's territory, Tsai said.
"The government should protect fishermen and safeguard their right to operate on open seas and should lodge a protest against Japan," Tsai said.
Chen Wen-sheng (???), the owner of a Ryukyu-registered fishing boat, said the fishermen could not stand up to the Japanese patrol ships and had to leave the area when they were asked to do so.
In a related development, Taiwan's Coast Guard Administration said Thursday that it had dispatched a vessel to the central and western Pacific earlier in the day on a 15-day patrol mission that would include the Okinotori area.
The CGA said it will inform the Foreign Ministry and Fisheries Agency of the movements of Taiwan fishing boats and Japanese patrol ships in the area and seek to protect the Taiwanese vessels.
Japan has defined Okinotori as an island and therefore claims a 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone around it, while Taiwan has argued that Okinotori is in fact a reef and is not entitled to anything more than a 500-meter security zone.
The dispute over marine rights near the Japan-controlled Okinotori arose after a Taiwanese fishing boat, the Tung Sheng Chi No. 16, was seized last April by the Japanese Coast Guard some 150 nautical miles off the atoll.
The boat and its crew were released after the owner paid a surety of 6 million Japanese yen (US$54,442) as requested by Japanese authorities.
Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel