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Taiwan pledges to 'defend' fishermen amid spat with Japan

Taiwan has sent two patrol ships to waters off a Japanese atoll days after one of its fishing boats was seized there. The incident angered Taiwanese officials, sparking a maritime row between Taipei and Tokyo.

A coast guard ship and a vessel from the Council of Agriculture set off on their patrol mission from Taiwan's southern Kaoshiung port on Sunday.

The operation, which is expected to last up to three months, was launched after Japan's seizure of the Tung Sheng Chi 16 fishing boat (pictured above) southeast of the Okinotori Islands earlier this week.

Taiwanese authorities described the detention as an illegal act, saying the boat had been fishing in international waters at the time it was intercepted.

"Japan has no right to ban our fishing boats from the area," Taiwan's coast guard administration said in a statement. "The government will resolutely defend the rights and freedom of our fisherman in international waters."

The 50-ton Taiwanese boat and its 10 crew were only freed after the ship's owner paid the 6 million yen ($54,000; 47,000 euros) demanded by Japanese authorities.

Fishermen stage a protest in Taiwan

Angry protesters stage a protest outside the office of Japan's representative in Taiwan after Tokyo's seizure of the fishing boat

Angry response

Taiwan on Friday summoned Japan's representative in protest of the boat's seizure. The Defense Ministry also threatened to deploy warships to "appropriate waters," while outgoing Premier Chang San-cheng issued a stern warning to Tokyo: "Don't ever think we'll be weak (on this issue). Don't test our determination," he told reporters.

Up to 200 Taiwanese boats fish in waters off the Japanese-administered Okinotori atoll each year. Japan says it has exclusive rights to the 200 nautical mile area (370 kilometers) surrounding the uninhabited islands in the Philippine Sea, but that claim is rejected by Taiwan, China and South Korea.

Senkaku Islands

The uninhabited Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea are claimed by Japan, China and Taiwan

Regional tensions

The spat over the detained fishing vessel follows a confrontation more than three years ago in which coast guard vessels from both sides attacked each other with water cannons over a chain of disputed islands in the East China Sea. The islands - known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese - are controlled by Japan but claimed by both China and Taiwan.

In 2013 Japan and Taiwan resolved the dispute and forged a fisheries agreement allowing Taiwanese fishermen access to the waters off the island chain.

Watch video 01:26

China criticizes G7 statement on sea disputes

Various territorial disputes in the East China Sea and South China Sea have

caused tensions

between several countries in the region. China in particular has

sought to bolster its presence

through building on islands and reefs in the South China Sea - a key shipping lane believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits.

nm/jm (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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