Taiwan flotilla heads for disputed islands

Taiwan enters fray over disputed islands, sending out at least 10 armed coastguard patrol boats alongside more than 60 fishing vessels.

A fisherman raises a Taiwanese national flag as several dozen fishing boats set out from the Suao harbor, northeastern Taiwan, to the disputed islands in the East China Sea.
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SUAO, Taiwan // Dozens of Taiwanese fishing boats set sail yesterday for disputed East China Sea islands that are also claimed by China and Japan.

Taiwan's coastguard sent out at least 10 patrol boats alongside the more than 60 fishing vessels, with some of the patrol ships carrying fully armed elite coastguard personnel.

"We'll do everything to protect our fishermen. We do not rule out using force to fight back if Japan were to do so," said Wang Chin-wang, the head of the coastguard.

The fishermen aim to highlight Taiwan's claim over the uninhabited islands, known as Diaoyu in China but Senkaku in Japan, which lie 400 kilometres from the Okinawan capital of Naha and 200 kilometres from Taiwan.

The islands, which are administered by Japan, lie on vital shipping lanes and are believed to be located near potentially rich gasfields.

The 61 fishing boats flying Taiwan flags and demonstration banners left Suao, a port in north-east Taiwan. The 300 fishermen and 60 reporters aboard are expected to arrive around dawn today.

Once there, the vessels plan to sail inside Japan's 12-nautical-mile territorial zone surrounding the islands.

The boats carried signs written in Chinese characters reading "Diaoyutai belongs to Taiwan" and "Fighting for fishing rights for survival".

Amid protests against Japan, which this month bought some of the disputed islands, Tokyo plans to send a special envoy to Taiwan today, the foreign ministry in Taipei said.