Hong Kong activists on Thursday called off their sea journey to the disputed Diaoyu Islands after their vessel failed what they claimed was an “awfully picky safety inspection” by marine authorities.
The activist, who had planned to set off to the disputed islands on Monday, accused the government of “playing political tricks” to stop them from making the trip to claim Chinese sovereignty over the islands, an act they said amounted to “treason”.
But the Marine Department denied this on Thursday and said it checked the vessel in a professional and conscientious manner, noting that its August 1 safety inspection found 41 defects on the activists’ vessel, Kai Fung No 2.
The activists now plan to fly to Taiwan to join fellow Diaoyu activists there and set sail on Wednesday to the disputed islands, which are administered by Japan but also claimed by Taiwan and China.
Lo Chau, a member of the Hong Kong-based Action Committee for Defending the Diaoyu Islands, said: “The officers were very picky. We were even asked to use the same colour for the fire hoses.”
“It is a dirty political trick by the government to prevent patriots like us from travelling to protect the Diaoyus." said fellow activist Chan Yu-nam. "This is no different from treason.”
In August of last year, the activists managed to set foot on one of the islets and planted a Chinese national flag. Some of them were arrested by Japanese authorities and deported.
Monday’s expedition was to be part of a joint protest with other activists from the mainland and Taiwan. They planned to land on an islet on Thursday to mark the anniversary of the Victory over Japan Day, which marked the end of the second world war in 1945.
“We may plan another voyage to the Diaoyus after our boat passes inspection,” Lo said. “The Diaoyu is Chinese territory. We, as Chinese, can go [there] whenever we like.”
Lo said 22 of the defects found by the Marine Department were minor, like filling up a sand box with sand, which he said had been rectified.
“But there are some major ones, like, renovating the pilothouse, that will take a long time to rectify,” said Lo.
During an onboard press visit organised by the activists on Thursday, water was seen dripping from some of the pipes on the main deck, and there were also rust problems on some metal panels and walls.
But Lo maintained the condition of Kai Fung No 2, which his group bought in 2005 for HK$700,000, was already in good shape, given it is 25 years old.
The group of uninhabited islets, known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan and the Diaoyu Islands in China, are located approximately 170 kilometres northeast of Taiwan and 410km west of Japan's Okinawa Island.
The decades-old dispute flared up last year after Japan’s then prime minister Yoshihiko Noda, nationalised the islands. China insisted the move was part of an anti-China conspiracy to strengthen Japan’s claim on the islands.