Friday, September 10, 2010

Taiwan, China to launch joint maritime rescue drill

Taiwan, China to launch joint maritime rescue drill

2010/09/10 20:07:30
Taipei, Sept. 10 (CNA) Taiwan's Coast Guard Administration (CGA) will conduct a joint maritime rescue drill next week with its Chinese counterpart, the first time the two countries' coastal patrol agencies hold joint marine exercises.

According to the CGA, it will hold the drill with China's Maritime Search and Rescue Center in waters off southeastern China, between Taiwan's Kinmen Island and the Chinese city of Xiamen.

Boats and aircraft from Taiwan and China will simulate the collision of two ships on the Kinmen-Xiamen route -- one of the busiest areas in the Taiwan Strait -- and try to save passengers that fall into the sea, the CGA said.

The CGA will send nine patrol boats, including a 500-ton patrol vessel, and helicopters to Kinmen for the joint drill.

To avoid unnecessary political disputes, the two sides have decided that all participating vessels and rescue teams will only carry flags that symbolize the joint drill, CGA officials said.

They underlined that the drill was being held for the sole purpose of preparing for possible accidents in the Taiwan Strait.

Commenting on the landmark cross-strait marine drill, Legislator Huang Wei-cher of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party said on Friday that he supports the way Taiwan and China have defined marine rescue as "a humanitarian practice."

"We must recognize China's conduct" to help save Taiwanese fishing boats from difficulties while operating on waters in the Taiwan Strait, he said.

But Huang also questioned whether Chinese ships should be permitted to sail across the median line of the strait into Taiwan's waters in the future if a marine accident happens on Taiwan's side of the strait.

"It needs to be discussed," he said.

On Thursday, former Deputy Minister of National Defense Lin Chong-pin said that although the participants in the rescue drill are not from the military, he sees the event as a "positive signal" in the two sides' pursuit of mutual military trust.

Lin, now a professor at Tamkang University's Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies, saw the upcoming marine drill as a sign that Taiwan and China have finally begun to pay attention to the long-term need for a joint capability in handling marine accidents in the Taiwan Strait.

The drill may be the first between the two countries' central government coast guards, but joint exercises have taken place at the local level.

In October 2008, the Kinmen County government dispatched ships and rescue personnel to conduct a joint marine rescue drill with a similar patrol squad from Xiamen.

The exercise was formed amid warming cross-strait relations after President Ma Ying-jeou took office in May that year.

This past June, Kinmen County Magistrate Li Wo-shih urged the two sides to establish a cross-Taiwan Strait marine accident rescue mechanism as soon as possible because of the fast pace at which transport services between Kinmen and Xiamen are growing.

Lee said 1.28 million traveled between the two destinations by boat in 2009, and the volume is expected to rise this year, Lee said. (By Ho Mung-kuei, Johnson Sun and Elizabeth Hsu) enditem/ls

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