Taiwan uses water cannon to drive off Vietnamese boat in South China Sea

A handout photo showing Taiwan's coastguard (right) spraying a Vietnamese fishing boat with a water cannon.
A handout photo showing Taiwan's coastguard (right) spraying a Vietnamese fishing boat with a water cannon. PHOTO: AFP

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan's coastguard said on Monday (Jan 25) 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 (around 4,600m) off Taiping Island, an Taiwan-administered islet in the Spratlys, the coastguard 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 coastguard 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 coastguard vessel opened fire with water cannon because of fears it might be rammed, the statement said.

While denying accusations in Vietnamese media that Taiwanese coastguards had enforced the law outside their territorial waters, the coastguard tried to keep the event low-profile.

"That was a regular law-enforcement practise in a sensitive area," one coastguard official told AFP 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 defence 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-tonne coastguard cutters and could accommodate 3,000-tonne naval frigates.