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Japan admits Coast Guard ‘partially at fault’ in fishing boat sinking

Date Posted: 2008-06-20

Retaliating for the June 10th sinking of a Taiwanese fishing boat, Taiwan’s Coast Guard escorted a protest ship into Japanese territorial waters around the disputed Senkaku islands early this week, triggering a diplomatic row between the two nations.

Nine Taiwanese patrol boats accompanied the protesters as it sailed into the East China Sea, arriving to within a kilometer of Uotsuri Island before being turned back by Japanese Coast Guard vessels that had issued warnings to the intruders. The protesters were angry over the sinking of a Taiwanese fishing boat, the Lianhe Hao, by the Japan Coast Guard ship Koshiki. The ships collided in the disputed Senkaku area. None of the three crew members or 13 passengers aboard the Lianhe Hao was seriously injured, and all were rescued by the Japanese ship.

The chief of the Coast Guard’s 11th Regional Headquarters in Naha was first to say “the patrol boat, on its part, was negligent in approaching the fishing boat.” Hideo Nasu says the patrol boat was trying to confirm the name on the vessel when the accident occurred.

Nobutaka Machimura, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, has quickly called for both parties to “act calmly” and not let the incident be overblown. He called the intrusion by Taiwanese coast guard patrol boats into Japanese waters “regrettable”, Machimura also said the sinking of the fishing ship was “regrettable” as well. Apart from expressing regrets, the chief cabinet secretary has assured Taiwan Japan would pay compensation for the Lianhe Hao sinking.

The Coast Guard has already determined the captain of the Koshiki was partially at fault, but said there’s a case against the fishing boat captain, as well. The Koshiki captain is already being charged with “professional negligence causing injury”, and the matter has been turned over to prosecutors. Machimura says the Lianhe Hao’s captain also is charged with “professional negligence and endangerment” and says that case has also been presented to prosecutors.

The larger issue of Taiwan intentionally sending ships into Japanese waters unannounced has the Japanese Foreign Ministry irritated. The nine patrol boats and lone protest vessel carrying 40 people spent nearly three hours in Japanese waters on Monday, before heading away from the Senkaku islands back to Taiwan. The Vice Minister of Taiwan’s Coast Guard was unapologetic for ordering his vessels into Japanese waters. “We did not notify Japan of the operations beforehand,” said Cheng Chang-hsiung, “because the operations were aimed at maintaining Taiwan’s sovereignty.” He made the comments during a televised news conference after the incident became public.

The Senkaku Islands have been claimed by Japan since they were seized in 1895 after colonizing Taiwan. Except for the period when the United States controlled them after World War II until returning them in 1971, Japan has claimed sovereignty over the islets. Both Taiwan and China dispute the Japanese position, laying claim to sovereignty as well.

The dispute has escalated in the past few years since potentially lucrative gas reserves were discovered in the Senkaku Islands area.

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