Diaoyu Islands

Diaoyu activists sail into Hong Kong to a heroes' welcome

Hundreds greet final group of activists who sail in with a plea for young blood for future voyages

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 August, 2012, 7:59am

The final members of a party that made an 11-day voyage to assert Chinese sovereignty over the Diaoyus sailed home to a heroes' welcome yesterday. But as they basked in the spotlight they raised a fresh concern - the need for new blood and more money to mount future expeditions.

Seven of the party of 14 that made the first landing by Hong Kong activists on the disputed islands in 16 years were on the fishing boat Kai Fung No2 as it docked at Tsim Sha Tsui, greeted by hundreds of supporters.

The vessel's owner, Lo Chau, 62, said: "The expedition could be seen as a success as all crew members returned safe. I didn't expect we could get back home. The only regret was that I could not land on the islands as I needed to command the vessel."

The other seven members returned by plane on Friday.

The activists had to evade Hong Kong police, acting to prevent a breach of marine regulations, as they left the city and an interception attempt by Japanese coastguard vessels as they approached the islands.

"We could break the cordon successfully because both Hong Kong and Japanese authorities made mistakes in stopping us and we took the opportunities," said the captain, Yeung Hong, 45.

The eight protesters who pitched the Chinese flag on the island were arrested, and all members of the party were deported on Friday.

This triggered anti-Japanese protests in mainland cities at the weekend, while tensions were raised further when a group of Japanese right-wing activists and parliamentarians landed on the islands they call the Senkakus to assert Japan's sovereignty.

Lo, a member of the Action Committee for Defending the Diaoyu Islands, said activists were planning their next voyage. But they would need to raise more than HK$200,000 to repair damage to the vessel caused by Japanese coastguards, he said.

Recruiting a new generation is also a priority as many of the activists are over 60. "Maybe we have not been doing enough in recruiting young members, but we will be moving in this direction," Yeung said.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying was invited to join the welcome party, but no government official was present. A spokesman for Leung had no comment.