Taiwan coastguard ‘drives away’ Chinese vessels including sand dredger

Taiwan coastguard ‘drives away’ Chinese vessels including sand dredger

Nearly 100 civilian vessels from mainland China including sand dredgers have converged on waters close to Taiwan’s Matsu archipelago, in what observers say is the latest effort to intimidate the self-ruled island.

According to Taiwan’s coastguard, the boats were seen in waters off Renai on Nangan Island on Sunday night. It said patrol ships were sent to disperse four sand carriers and one dredger that had crossed into Taiwanese waters.

“We managed to drive away the five vessels last night,” a coastguard spokesman said, adding that it was in contact with mainland authorities about the incident via a mechanism to jointly fight cross-strait crime.

He said most of the Chinese vessels had stayed out of Taiwanese waters, which are off limits to mainland ships, so the coastguard could not take action to disperse or seize them.

Tensions have been escalating between Taipei and Beijing, which sees Taiwan as part of its territory, to be brought under its control by force if necessary.

Nangan is the largest island in the Matsu archipelago, controlled by Taipei but strategically located close to the mainland in the East China Sea. It is about 211km (114 nautical miles) from Taiwan but just 18km (10 nautical miles) from the mainland province of Fujian. Although it was largely demilitarised about two decades ago, Taiwan still has a military command stationed there to safeguard the islands.