Seas batter first winter mission to remote island


TAIPEI–A ship sent by Taiwan’s Coast Guard Administration (CGA) recently carried out its first winter mission to the country’s Taiping Island in the South China Sea amid terrible weather conditions. The Wei Hsing Cutter left Kaohsiung Harbor Dec. 9 and arrived in Taiping two days later with officials scheduled to attend the inauguration ceremony of a new solar power system on the largest of the Spratly Islands, which lie around 1,600 kilometers southwest of Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan. “Our trip unfortunately coincided with the northeastern monsoon, which brought extremely unfavorable weather. The ship swayed dramatically in the water,” said Chu Ching-ho, commander of the Fifth Coast Guard Group. Based on a clinometer onboard, the angle of tilt was as much as 40 degrees due to the high waves, Chu added. Built in 1992, the vessel is 82.29 meters in length and 11.58 meters in breadth, with a weight of 1,823 tons. It has a crew of 50 people. The boat’s main mandate is to enforce the Blue Sea Project, which involves expelling illegal fishing boats from the waters around Taiping Island in March, June and September every year. This was the first time in 20 years that the vessel had traveled to the Spratly archipelago during the harsh conditions of December.

The CGA began to execute the Blue Sea Project around Dongsha Island and the Spratly Islands in 2000 to help protect the area’s ecosystem from destructive fishing techniques such as blast fishing, and the efforts seem to have paid off, according to Chang Te-hao, director of the South Coast Guard Bureau. “Green turtles could not be found around Dongsha in the past, but they were spotted as recently as September,” Chang said. “The most important reason is that the sea has become a lot cleaner.” Turning Taiping into a “low-carbon island” was an idea promoted by President Ma Ying-jeou in a South China Sea policy meeting in November 2010. The government’s intention is to cement Taiwan’s sovereignty in the area by focusing on scientific research and environmental protection. In addition to Taiwan, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines also claim all or part of the Spratly archipelago.