TAIPEI – Taiwan’s coast guard said Monday that one of its vessels used water cannon this month to drive off a Vietnamese fishing boat near disputed islands in the South China Sea.
Two Vietnamese fishing boats were sighted on Jan. 6 some 2.5 nautical miles (3.7 km) off Taiping Island, an Taiwan-administered islet in the Spratlys, the coast guard said in a statement.
The Spratly Islands are also claimed in part or in whole by Vietnam, China, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.
The two Taiwanese coast guard boats, which have been deployed there since December to replace smaller vessels, scrambled to drive off the Vietnamese boats.
One left while the second refused and instead attempted to zigzag. One coast guard vessel opened fire with water cannon because of fears it might be rammed, the statement said.
While denying accusations in Vietnamese media that Taiwanese coast guards had enforced the law outside their territorial waters, the coast guard tried to keep the event low-profile.
“That was a regular law-enforcement practise in a sensitive area,” one coast guard official said on condition of anonymity.
China is seen by other claimants as the biggest threat in the South China Sea.
The Philippines and Vietnam have complained that China is becoming increasingly aggressive in its actions in the area — such as harassing fishermen — and also through bullying diplomatic tactics.
As part of efforts to strengthen defense capabilities, Taiwan late last year inaugurated a solar-powered lighthouse, an expanded airstrip and a pier on Taiping Island.
It serves as the home port of the 100-ton coast guard cutters and could accommodate 3,000-ton naval frigates.