20130516 TAIPEI-MANILA ROW: Military should protect nation’s ships: legislators
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TAIPEI-MANILA ROW: Military should protect nation’s ships: legislators

By Shelley Shan and Rich Chang / Staff reporters

Lawmakers at a meeting of the legislature’s Transportation Committee yesterday urged the government to deploy military vessels to protect Taiwanese commercial ships against harassment.

The committee was scheduled to review an amendment the Shipping Act (航業法) that would allow shipping firms to hire private armed security guards to protect commercial ships when they operate in international waters.

At the meeting, Minister of Transportation and Communications Yeh Kuang-shih (葉匡時) was invited to answer questions from lawmakers.

Despite the amendment having been proposed before the killing of a Taiwanese fisherman by Philippine Coast Guard personnel last week, lawmakers nevertheless made reference to the fatal shooting in their deliberations.

Several lawmakers said the actions of the the Philippines was “no different from those of pirates.”

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Tsai Chi-chang (蔡其昌) said he did not oppose the amendment, but said that the Ministry of National Defense should also deploy navy ships to guard ships registered in Taiwan.

As an example, Tsai cited the South Korean navy’s storming of a cargo ship seized by pirates in the Arabian Sea last year, rescuing eight South Koreans, two Indonesians and 11 Burmese onboard. The rescue team also killed eight pirates and captured five others.

“Why did South Korea do that? Because it knows it needs to fight back so that they will not be bullied,” Tsai said. “Pirates are more likely to rob Taiwan’s ships because they know the Taiwanese government would never come to their rescue. We are not asking for wars, but for keeping the peace by threatening the use of force.”

“We have begged and pleaded with the Philippines to negotiate over fishery rights [between the two countries],” Tsai said. “This amendment, to a certain extent, is a mockery of the navy. It is like saying that we are passing a law to allow people to hire mercenaries so that they can protect themselves.”

Yeh disagreed that the amendment showed that Taiwan was weak in terms of military power.

“Pirates generally operate off the coast of East Africa,” Yeh said. “We had thought about sending military vessels to protect our ships there, but the EU voiced its opposition to the move. The cost of such measures, if implemented, would be too high. We would have to conduct more research for such a scenario to occur.”

Separately yesterday, a Kidd-class destroyer and a Lafayette-class frigate departed for joint operations with Coast Guard Administration vessels near the temporary law enforcement line in waters between Taiwan and the Philippines today.

The two warships departed at 3:30pm from Kaohsiung military harbors and are set to meet a Cheng Kung-class frigate and another Lafayette-class frigate, as well as other coast guard vessels, the military said.

The joint military exercises are set to take place between 8am and 4pm and include air defense and anti-sea attack operations, it added.

The Ministry of National Defense made the decision to send the navy’s most advanced warship yesterday morning after the government announced that Manila’s response to the ultimatum was unsatisfactory.

The operation is aimed at showing the nation’s determination to protect Taiwanese fishing boats, the ministry said.

Two F-16 aircraft, two Indigenous Defensive Fighters (IDF), several S-70c helicopters and E-2K early-warning aircraft will also join the operation, the ministry said.

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