Japan releases Taiwan fishing boat after row

TAIPEI - Japan has released a Taiwanese fishing boat whose seizure prompted a protest from Taipei after its owner paid more than $50,000 Tuesday, the government said.

The 50-tonne "Tung Sheng Chi 16" was chased for hours by a Japanese boat and finally seized Monday 150 nautical miles off Okinotori-shima, an atoll administered by Japan.

The seizure led to a protest from Taipei, which said Japan had no authority in the area and demanded the release of the ship and 10 crew.

But they were freed only after the ship's owner paid a "lawsuit deposit" of 6.0 million yen ($54,000) as required by the Japanese authorities, Taiwan's foreign ministry said in a statement.

"We respect the family's decision intended to have the people and ship released as soon as possible," it said.

But the ministry said "this by no means indicates Taiwan recognises the 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) Japan has claimed across the water surrounding the atoll".

Okinotori-shima is an uninhabited atoll in the Philippine Sea which is mostly submerged at low tide.

The Japanese EEZ claim has also been rejected by China and South Korea, although neither country has made its own claim.

The Taiwanese fishing boat and the crew - the Taiwanese skipper, one Chinese and eight Indonesian sailors - are scheduled to sail back to Taiwan early Wednesday, the ministry said.