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Taiwanese Vessel Rams U.S. Ship As State Department Renews Request To Board

July 22, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ One of two Taiwanese vessels suspected of involvement in the sale of $1.3 million worth of illegal salmon rammed a U.S. ship shadowing it in the North Pacific, a government spokesman said Friday.

Confirmation of the ramming, which did little damage to either vessel, came as the State Department again asked Taiwan for permission to board and inspect its two vessels.

Taiwan’s refusal of an initial request touched off sharp congressional criticsm with some lawmakers demanding that the U.S. board the vessels regardless of international repercussions and others suggesting an immediate embargo on Taiwanese fisheries products.

Brian Gorman, a spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said that besides the ramming, the Tawianese vessel identified as the Tong Foong No. 11 dropped a net in the water in an effort to ″foul the propeller″ of the following Redfin.

The Redfin, a 180-foot refrigerated freighter that was chartered as part of a six-month sting operation, broke off the chase late Friday after running short of supplies and headed for Alaska where the two captains and an interpreter who was also detained will be flown to Anchorage for arraignment.

The Coast Guard cutter Morgenthau continued to track the other Taiwanese vessel.

″This is a very sticky situation, both logistically and diplomatically,″ Gorman said. ″Of course we are disappointed they refused to allow us to board. These guys are stealing our fish.″

Earlier this week, federal agents arrested two Taiwanese men as they emerged from a bank vault in Seattle carrying suitcases containing more than $1 million in cash that they allegedly received as payment for 500 metric tons of illegally caught salmon.

The arrests marked the culmination of the sting operation mounted by several federal agencies.

At the same time the arrests were being made, the Redfin was rendezvousing with the Taiwanese vessels north of Midway Island to complete the sting operation by receiving the illegally caught fish.

When the captains of the two Taiwanese vessels boarded the Redfin to arrange details of the transfer they were detained, but their ships fled as the Morgenthau approached.

Before the vessels fled, federal agents were able to obtain 40 fish under the guise of inspecting them before the transaction was completed.

Officials of the Departments of Commerce, State, Justice and Defense and the Coast Guard met Friday to discuss Taiwan’s initial refusal to allow boarding.

A second cable to the Taiwanese was sent late in the day and congressional sources, who asked to remain anonymous, said it pointed out the possibility that trade sanctions might be imposed if Taiwan refused to cooperate.

The incident is only the latest in a series that have involved the driftnet fleets of Taiwan, Japan and South Korea which U.S. industry groups say have depleted salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska because of illegal fishing.

Update hourly