The China Post staff
The quasi-official Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) informed its mainland Chinese counterpart yesterday of the rescue of four mainland crewmen of an ill-fated freighter off the southwestern coast of Taiwan. “As of 4:00 p.m. today, we had managed to save the lives of four mainland seamen aboard the Guangyuan gravel ship which sank off Anping Harbor in southern Taiwan Saturday afternoon amid strong winds and high seas brought about by typhoon Chebi,” the SEF said in its message to its mainland counterpart. The four rescued mainland seamen were identified as Chu Liwu, 33; Zhang Enxiuang, 50; Chen Lin, 25; and Zhang Jiyo, 39. They are now receiving medical treatment at hospitals in Chiayi and Tainan. In addition, the SEF informed Beijing’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) that the bodies of seven other mainland seamen were recovered. But their identities have yet to be determined. Twelve other mainland crew are still listed missing. The SEF told ARATS staff that Taiwan’s rescue personnel have stepped up their search for missing crew.”Search and rescue operations will continue for a full 72 hours until 4:00 p.m. Tuesday,” the SEF said in its message. The SEF asked ARATS officials to help explain to the families of all mainland crew members Taiwan’s efforts to assist in search and rescue operations. The Belize-registered, 4,200-ton vessel was reported missing Saturday off Anping Harbor after it sent a distress signal to harbor authorities. “I had asked the freighter’s captain whether he was sure that the gravel ship was capable of entering the harbor amid strong winds and high waves,” recalled Anping Harbor chief Wang Tien-chu.
“The captain said he was not sure. I then asked him whether he would desert the vessel. The captain gave a definite negative answer. But then the ship lost contact,” Wang continued. The freighter was carrying 5,300 tons of gravel when it was hit by the tropical storm. “As the ship was already 26 years old, I thought that it might break and sink all of a sudden, leaving no time for its captain to make appropriate response,” Wang said. Taiwan’s military and coast guard authorities immediately sent helicopters and patrol ships to search for the crew of the missing freighter. The National Fire Administration also set up a special relief center to coordinate the gravel ship-related search and rescue operations. It was the most serious maritime disaster in the Taiwan Strait in recent years, shipping industry sources said. Coast guard patrol ships intensified the search in waters off Tainan, Chiayi and Taichung in the hope of finding other survivors. The Kaohsiung Harbor Bureau, which administers Anping Harbor affairs, said it will send ships to determine the exact location where the Guangyuan freighter sank. “We’ll set up a warning signal at the site to alert vessels traveling around the area to avoid any possible dangers,” said a Kaohsiung Harbor Bureau official. “We’ll then ask the ship owner to salvage the shipwreck,” he added. The bureau also sent a trawler to a nearby area yesterday in preparation for cleaning up oil spills from the ill-fated freighter, but no oil slicks were found as of 4:00 p.m. yesterday.