Taiwan, Philippines to cooperate in fisheries law enforcement

Taiwan, Philippines to cooperate in fisheries law enforcement Taipei, Nov. 19 (CNA) Taiwan and the Philippines have concluded a fisheries agreement, which will take effect immediately after an official announcement has been made, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a press release Thursday. The Agreement Concerning the Facilitation of Cooperation on Law Enforcement in Fisheries Matters, concluded Nov. 5, contains seven articles and includes three important points of consensus that have already been implemented -- avoiding the use of violence or unnecessary force, establishing an emergency notification system, and setting up a prompt release mechanism, according to the press release. Aimed at seeking peaceful solutions to fishery disputes, the agreement, nevertheless, does not touch on the contiguous zone issue. Although the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea sets the limits of territorial waters and exclusive economic zones (EEZs), the Philippine authorities claim unilaterally that based on the 1958 convention on territorial waters and the contiguous zone, Philippine coastal patrols have the legal right to board Taiwanese fishing boats operating in a zone of the high seas contiguous to its territorial waters. Territorial waters are defined in the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea as a belt of coastal waters extending at most 12 nautical miles from the baseline of a coastal state. The contiguous zone is a further 12 nautical miles beyond the 12-nautical mile territorial waters, according to the U.N. convention. The contiguous zone issue will be discussed during a second-round technical working group meeting scheduled for the first half of 2016, a foreign affairs official told CNA in Manila. At the first-round technical working group meeting Nov. 5, consensus was reached on the establishment of two mechanisms -- a one-hour advance notification to the other party before taking law enforcement action against a fishing vessel from the other party that is believed to be operating illegally in the overlapping exclusive economic zones, and the prompt release of detained vessels and crew within three days. It was also decided at the first technical working group meeting to postpone the official announcement of the agreement signed in Taipei by Gary Song-huann Lin of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in the Philippines and Antonio I. Basilio of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office in Taiwan, the official said. In the wake of a tragic incident in 2013, when a Philippine coast guard ship opened fire on the Taiwanese fishing boat Guang Da Xing No. 28 (廣達興28號), killing 65-year-old Hung Shih-cheng (洪石城), Taiwan and the Philippines began a series of negotiations on law enforcement measures in their overlapping Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) in order to resolve fishery disputes. Negotiations on signing a law enforcement cooperation agreement over the past two years became snagged on obstacles related to the contiguous zone issue, although both parties agreed that force should not be used in the event of disputes. James Sha (沙志一), deputy minister of the Council of Agriculture, said that the two parties decided to temporarily set aside the thorny issue so as to enable an agreement to be signed. Negotiations will continue, and it is hoped that a breakthrough can be attained at meetings scheduled for next spring, he added. Lin Chi-chang (林啟滄), secretary-general of the National Fishermen's Association, said that concluding such an agreement would be a good start in providing a safety guarantee for fishermen. He said that Taiwanese fishermen, in general, have seen some improvements in terms of the government's protection measures after the Guang Da Xing No. 28 incident. It is good that a fisheries disputes notification mechanism has been established and that violence can be avoided, he added. However, Hung Tzu-chien (洪慈綪), daughter of the victim of the Guang Da Xing No. 28 shooting, said it is more important to define the legitimate zone in which Taiwanese fishing boats can operate rather than establishing the mechanism of notification and non-use of violence. (Courtesy of CNA)