TAIPEI (AFP) — Taiwan pressed its sovereignty claims over a disputed island chain Thursday as protesters demanded an apology from Japan for the sinking of a Taiwanese fishing boat.
The incident occurred near uninhabited islands in the East China Sea known as the Senkaku in Japanese and the Diaoyu in Chinese.
Japan administers the chain which lies near rich energy deposits, but it is also claimed by Taipei and Beijing.
"Our firm determination to defend the sovereignty of the Diaoyu islands has never changed and never will," said presidential spokesman Wang Yu-chi.
"We strongly protest that the Japanese ship rammed into our vessel and sank it in our territorial waters. We demand Japan immediately release our captain and compensate for the loss."
Wang's comments came after some opposition lawmakers accused President Ma Ying-jeou, who took part in a campaign in the early 1970s to defend the disputed islands, of acting too soft on the issue.
Foreign ministry official Tsai Ming-yao who oversees Japan affairs offered to take responsibility amid heated criticism over his decision to call off sending a coast guard vessel to the disputed waters after the incident.
The captain of the fishing vessel the Lien Ho, registered in Taipei County, says his boat was rammed by a Japanese coast guard vessel before sinking about six nautical miles off the Diaoyus early Tuesday, according to Taiwanese media.
Dozens of protesters including the captain's wife rallied outside Tokyo's de facto embassy in Taipei, holding placards reading "shameless Japan, hegemonist Japan" as they called on it to apologise, compensate and release the crew members.
"Japan should not trivialise this matter... as it involves sovereignty issues. We urge Japan to admit its mistake and immediate release the crew," said Taipei County magistrate Chou Hsi-wei while lodging his protest.
The Japan Coast Guard claimed the Taiwanese boat made an abrupt move as it was speeding out of the contested area and crashed into the Japanese vessel.
Japan said the 16 people on board -- 13 fishing enthusiasts and three crew -- were taken to Ishigaki, an island in Japan's Okinawan chain south of the disputed territories.
The fishermen and the two crew returned home Wednesday and Thursday while captain Ho Hung-yi remained in Japanese hands pending investigation.
China, which insists Taiwan is part of its territory despite their split in 1949 at the end of a civil war, has also denounced the incident.
Japan has claimed the island chain since 1895, but its dispute with China has intensified in recent years after potentially-rich gas reserves were found nearby.
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