Philippines plans marine base on island near Taiwan to deter poaching

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines will start building a marine base next month on its northernmost uninhabited island, near Taiwan, to boost defense arrangements and discourage poachers from its fishing grounds, a military spokesman said on Thursday.

The two nations’ coast guard ships have confronted each other in the rich fishing waters where their exclusive economic zones overlap, and the neighbors nearly cut ties in 2013, after a Philippine vessel fired on a Taiwanese fishing boat, killing a fisherman.

“We need to have a presence there,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Isagani Nato, spokesman of the Northern Luzon Command of the Philippines, adding that building work on Mavulis island would start next month.

“It’s still uninhabited, that is why we are going to put up a facility to guard our maritime domain, and against poaching during the fishing period.”

Nato said a small marine unit would be stationed on the island, also known as Y’Ami, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) distant from Taiwan, to increase the military presence and improve information gathering.

He did not give details of the size of the unit, but added that the structures on the island would also afford shelter to fishermen.

The base will help monitor ships passing through the Balintang Channel, an international trade route in the northern Philippines used by vessels crossing from the busy waterway of the South China Sea to the Pacific Ocean.

Taiwan and the Philippines also have overlapping claims in the South China Sea, along with Brunei, China, Malaysia and Vietnam.

More than 20 years ago, Philippine defense officials said Taiwan had proposed to lease the uninhabited island as a gunnery range for its military, promising to donate a secondhand fighter as part of the deal.

Nothing came of the agreement as Manila recognizes Beijing’s one-China policy, although it has a de facto embassy in Taipei, where thousands of Filipinos work in homes and factories.

Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Clarence Fernandez