Government hit for indifference over missing gravel ship

The China Post staff

Relatives of the 21 crew members on board a missing gravel ship protested in front of the Executive Yuan yesterday over what they said was a lackadaisical and indifferent attitude on the part of the government in its investigation. The Hualien No.1, which disappeared 192 days ago, was thought to have either capsized or been raided by pirates at its last known location off Taiwan’s east coast at around 600 p.m. on Feb. 28. However, Chunghwa Telecom records showed that somebody called to check on a crew member’s voice messages after 600, although they couldn’t confirm if the call originated from the crew member himself or another party. The 16-year-old ship departed from Hualien at 500 p.m. on Feb. 28 and was scheduled to arrive at Tamsui at 7:00 a.m. the next day. No distress signal was received from the vessel and no trace of bodies, flotsam or even tell-tale fuel slick were found either. Family members said that rescue attempts and a subsequent investigation conducted by several government departments over the past months were a maritime version of the Pachang Creek tragedy. Fann Lie-pyng, wife of the ship’s captain, said that given the amount of time that has elapsed since the ship disappeared, the Cabinet should at least be able to release an official report to let the families know if their kin were dead or alive. The victims’ families said that they had asked for the immediate help from the Ministry of National Defense’s Taipei Rescue and Cooperation Center, the Coast Guard Administration (CGA) and local fire departments once the ship owner notified them that the ship had failed to reach Tamsui as scheduled. But the whole rescue process seemed overly chaotic to the families because of the involvement of too many rescue units, said Fann. The CGA also told the relatives of the missing crewmen that they had been unable to continue the search between Feb. 29 and March 3 due to bad weather, according to Fann. People First Party legislator Dainne Lee said she has urged the Ministry of Transportation and Communications to conduct a thorough investigation of this case, but complained that so far the Cabinet has not reported a thing.

Fann said she hoped Premier Tang Fei understood the misery caused by this not-knowing-where-their-kin-were, especially with the Moon Festival, a traditional time for family reunions, approaching. She also said she hoped Tang would establish a special task force to get to the bottom of the mystery as soon as possible.