Using companion craft as decoys, Taiwanese protesters in fishing boats evaded Japanese coast guard vessels Monday and landed on disputed islands in the East China Sea.
Waving Taiwanese flags, two groups of demonstrators staked their claim to the uninhabited islets for a few minutes before obeying Japanese orders and leaving.
There were no reports of violence.
The demonstrators were among 140 activists from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan who set sail from Keelung, Taiwan, Sunday night in the largest challenge yet to Japan’s claim to the islands.
Taiwan and China say the islands have belonged to them for centuries; they have received strong backing from Hong Kong and Macau Chinese.
The activists sailed to the chain, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, aboard 31 fishing boats.
About 6:35 a.m. the protest boats began sailing in and out of Japan’s 12-mile territorial waters around the islands, distracting the coast guard, guard spokesman Yoshihiro Umeda said.
An hour later, four protesters in two small boats raced past the preoccupied coast guard flotilla and landed on one of the islands for about 10 minutes, waving their flag, Umeda said.
Thirty minutes later, another small group of protesters landed on the same islet and repeated that ceremony.
Before leaving Taiwan, protesters said they planned to tear down a 16-foot lighthouse erected by a Japanese ultranationalist group in July.
The lighthouse construction prompted many protests, and China’s government has sharply criticized Japan several times.
Japan’s Kyodo News Service said the coast guard had sent more than 50 patrol boats and military reconnaissance planes to the area.
Located 110 miles north of Taiwan, the islands lie amid rich fishing grounds, and the ocean floor may hold oil and natural gas deposits.