June 15, 2008

Taiwan FM Says Japan’s Report on Boat Collision “Unacceptable”

Text of report in English by Taiwanese Central News Agency website

[By Lilian Wu]

Taipei, June 14 (CNA) - Minister of Foreign Affairs Francisco H.L. Ou said Saturday a Japanese investigation report on a recent boat collision in the disputed waters near the Tiaoyutai Islands was unacceptable.

Ou said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has decided to recall Taiwan's representative to Japan, Koh Se-kai, to learn more about Koh's negotiations with the Japanese government over the incident in which a Taiwanese fishing boat sank Tuesday after colliding with a Japanese patrol vessel in the waters near the disputed island group in the East China Sea.

The ministry "cannot" accept the investigation report it received Saturday, Ou said.

The report said the case has been turned over to the Okinawa Prosecutor Office. It stated that the captain of the patrol ship, Koshiki, of the Maritime Safety Agency of Japan, might have caused navigational hazards and damage through negligence, while the captain of the Taiwanese fishing boat might have caused navigational hazards through negligence.

But Ou said it was "unreasonable" for a big 100-ton Japanese patrol vessel to ram a small 20-ton recreational boat.

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs requested that Japan apologize immediately for this inhuman behaviour and compensate Captain Ho Hung-yi for his losses," he added.

The MOFA will ask the Coast Guard Administration (CGA) and other related agencies to come up with an investigative report on the incident as soon as possible, he said.

The ministry will also ask the judicial authorities to provide relevant assistance, he said, adding that the ministry will coordinate with Ho on follow-up actions to seek compensation.

Ou noted that a task force set up under the MOFA to deal with issues related to the Tiaoyutais has been idle for years, but will be reactivated in view of the latest incident.

Ou also said the Committee on Japanese Affairs under the ministry, which was set up in 2005 as a task force, will be disbanded.

The committee was comprised of officials in charge of Japanese affairs under the ministry's Department of East Asian and Pacific Affairs and from the Association of East Asian Relations, a quasi- official organization authorized to deal with Japan matters in the absence of diplomatic ties.

Tsai Ming-yao, executive director of the committee, said Thursday that he had asked a CGA guard vessel at the scene of the incident to stay put and refrain from entering the Tiaoyutais' 12-nautical-mile territorial waters.

Tsai said he gave the instructions not knowing that the Taiwanese vessel was already locked in a face-off with a Japanese patrol boat some 7.8 nautical miles from the Tiaoyutais, where it was trying to gather evidence related to the collision.

Tsai has since resigned amid criticisms of his decision to ask the coast guard vessel to back off.

At the core of the incident is a Taiwanese recreational fishing boat with three crew members and 13 customers aboard, which sank some six nautical miles southwest of the Tiaoyutais Tuesday morning after colliding with a Japanese coast guard patrol vessel.

The 13 anglers returned to Taiwan Wednesday, and two crew members returned Thursday, while Ho, the last to be released, returned Friday.

The incident sparked renewed discussion on the sovereignty of the Tiaoyutais, which are claimed by Taiwan, China and Japan. The waters around the island group have traditionally been a fishing ground for Taiwan fishermen.

The United States turned over the Tiaoyutais to Japan when it returned Okinawa in 1972, but Taiwan maintains that it has historical, geographical and judicial links to the island group.

Japan has currently put the uninhabited Tiaoyutais, known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan, under the jurisdiction of Ishigawa, Okinawa, while in Taiwan, they fall under the jurisdiction of Yilan County.

The conflicting claims over the sovereignty of Tiaoyutais have complicated fishing disputes between Taiwan and Japan in waters near the islands.

Both sides held a 15th round of fishery talks in July 2005 to try to resolve the recurring disputes, and agreed to hold the next round of dialogue in March 2006, but the talks never took place.

Taiwanese fishing boats are often chased away by Japanese patrol vessels in the disputed waters, but collisions there are rare.

Originally published by Central News Agency website, Taipei, in English 1511 14 Jun 08.

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