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A boat carrying 13 activists from Hong Kong and mainland China left Japanese territorial waters in the East China Sea on Monday after an attempt to land on the disputed Senkaku Islands was thwarted by Japanese patrol boats, the coast guard said.

A support group in China said on its Web site that the protesters had abandoned plans to land on the uninhabited islands, known as the Diaoyu Islands in China, as many of them were suffering from seasickness.

Later in the day, the Chinese government voiced support for the activists. The Chinese Foreign Ministry reiterated Beijing’s position that “the Diaoyu Islands and its adjacent islets” have been “an integral part of China” since ancient times.

The vessel, carrying two activists from Hong Kong and 11 from mainland China, m began its voyage Sunday morning from Yuhuan county in China’s Zhejiang Province.

It entered Japanese territorial waters around 11:32 a.m., but its progress was halted by Japanese patrol boats at around 11:44 a.m. It left Japanese waters shortly after 2 p.m., the coast guard said.

The islands, located in the East China Sea some 500 km from Okinawa Island and 140 km from Taiwan, are called the Senkaku Islands by Japan and the Diaoyu Islands by China. Taiwan calls them Tiaoyutai.

The activists’ boat was followed and monitored by 16 Japan Coast Guard patrol vessels as well as helicopters, said Albert Ho from the Action Committee for Defending the Diaoyu Islands, the Hong Kong-based group that organized the demonstration.

There were minor collisions of the boats during the interception, Ho said.

After learning of the departure of the ship, the coast guard set up an ad hoc team to deal with the incident at its local branch in Okinawa Prefecture, and a similar office was set up at coast guard headquarters in Tokyo.

“Of course, our members want to land on the islands. But that may not be realistic,” Ho told Kyodo News. “But we have to draw people’s attention (to) the matter and protest Japan’s claim over the islands.”

The last time Chinese activists protested Japan’s claim to the islands with such direct action was in June 1998. Monday’s action was the first in which Hong Kong and mainland Chinese activists joined hands.

According to the coast guard, the ship was flying the Chinese flag and its mast was equipped with two loudspeakers. The activists on board said they were protesting the Japanese government’s decision to lease the land on three of the disputed islands, the officials said.

In Hong Kong, some 10 fellow supporters staged a protest outside the Japanese Consulate General to back the action.

Earlier in the day, Fukuda told reporters the islands are Japanese territory and the government would deal with the action in line with Japanese law.

The Hong Kong group has been trying to sail to the isles annually since 1996.

Its vessel was damaged in 1998 when the group confronted Japanese patrol vessels that intercepted it.

Over the past several years, the activists called off their trip due to a lack of funds, while in 1999 they shelved their visit to instead help raise donations for victims of a massive earthquake in Taiwan that September.

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