, Taiwan, Sept 13 – Two Taiwanese coastguard ships on Thursday set sail for waters near a disputed archipelago in the East China Sea, officials said, amid an ongoing territorial row among Taiwan, China and Japan.
The vessels are expected to get around 20 to 30 nautical miles (37 to 56 kilometres) west of the disputed Diaoyu islands to offer round-the-clock protection for Taiwanese fishermen, said a coastguard official.
The move came after Japan announced on Tuesday that it had completed its planned purchase of the islands, which are known as Senkaku in Japanese and are also claimed by Taiwan and China.
Taipei has recalled its envoy to Japan to protest the Japanese move while Beijing has dispatched two patrol ships to assert its sovereignty following the purchase.
The islands have long been at the centre of a territorial dispute between Japan and China and a major row was sparked last month after activists from both sides sailed to the archipelago.
Japan arrested 14 activists who sailed to the area from Hong Kong, triggering protests by China and Taiwan, and moved swiftly to deport them.
Days later Japanese activists landed on one of the islands and raised a Japanese flag.
The islands, which are around 160 kilometres (99 miles) from Japan’s Okinawa chain and about 200 kilometres from Taiwan, lie on vital shipping lanes and are believed to lie near potentially rich gas fields.
Observers said national pride was also a major reason for the acrimony in the dispute.