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Taiwan fishing boat sunk by Japanese frigate

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- A 270-ton sports fishing boat, with 16 crew and deep-sea anglers aboard, sank off the Tiaoyutai islands in a collision with a Japanese frigate yesterday.

No causalities were reported.

The accident occurred at 3:23 a.m. after the SS Lien Ho apparently was hit from behind by the Koshiki of the Japanese Sea Defense Force in patrol.

All aboard the Lien Ho, whose home port is Nanya, were thrown overboard. They were rescued by the Koshiki, and taken to Ishigaki jima, one of the southernmost island of the Ryukyus some 200 kilometers east of Juifang.

Nanya is a fishing port at Juifang, 14 miles south of Keelung.

Thirteen anglers were released to Taiwan coastguardsmen, who rushed to Ishigaki aboard the cutter Taichung. They are scheduled to return to Keelung early this morning, a National Coast Guard Administration spokesman said.

He said the Lien Ho's three-man crew were detained on Ishigaki for questioning. An inquest has to be held to find out the cause of the collision.

The Lien Ho, skippered by Ho Hung-yi, called for help at 2:30 a.m. He positioned his boat at 123 degrees 28 minutes east and 25 degrees 39 minutes north.

Ho said a Japanese patrol boat was in pursuit. He was slightly injured when he was thrown overboard.

Three NCGA cutters,including the Taichung, were dispatched at once.

"None of them could reach the scene, which is within Japanese sea territory," the NCGA spokesman said. All three cutters had to stay 12 sea miles off the Tiaoyutais, which the Japanese call the Senkaku Islands.

Taiwan, along with China and Japan, claims sovereignty over the Tiaoyutai Islands. The Chinese call them Diaoyudai.

Japanese coastguardsmen were quoted as saying they located the Lien Ho in waters close to the Senkakus. When the Koshiki tried to approach, they added, the Lien Ho moved away on a zigzag course.

The two ships collided when the Lien Ho suddenly changed course as the Japanese coastguardsmen attempted to check the name of the sports fishing boat, a CNA dispatch from Tokyo said.

Lee Ming-tzung, Taipei's representative in Naha, was instructed to go to Ishigaki to help the crew, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

Phoebe Yeh said details of the accident remained unclear. She would only confirm the skipper of the Lien Ho was slightly injured.

Taipei's representative office in Tokyo has also expressed its concern to the Interchange Association, Yeh said. They will work together to clarify responsibility for the accident.

"Our stance is that the ministry hopes to bring back the 16 people as soon as possible, and clarify who is responsible for the accident and the matter of indemnification," Yeh pointed out.

Taipei hopes talks will be resumed with Tokyo over the Tiayutai Islands.

China, which insists Taiwan is part of its territory after the two split in 1949 at the end of a civil war, also denounced the incident.

"We urge the Japanese government to stop the illegal activities around the Diaoyu Island to prevent such things from happening again," said foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang.

The dispute between China and Japan over the islands intensified in recent years after potentially-rich gas reserves were found nearby in the East China Sea.

The two sides have failed to come up with a solution to the gas row even as Asia's two largest economies work to ease other points of friction.

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