Sun, Oct 12, 2014 - Page 1 News List

Officials probe sinking of vessel

FATAL MISSION:As the investigation into the sinking of the nation’s largest maritime research ship intensified, officials looked at Typhoon Vongfong as a potential cause

By Sean Lin and Jason Pan  /  Staff reporters

An investigation has begun to determine why the Ocean Researcher V — the nation’s largest maritime research vessel — sank on Friday night near Penghu, leaving two people dead and 24 injured.

The 2,700-tonne vessel set sail from Greater Tainan at 9am on Thursday for an eight-day mission conducted by the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) and National Taiwan Ocean University aimed at studying atmospheric pollution.

However, the two-year-old ship was completely submerged in stormy waters off Penghu’s Longmen District (龍門) by 8:11pm on Friday, less than three hours after it first issued a distress call, officials said.

Sea and air rescue efforts continued for several hours after that, ending with all 45 people on board — 27 researchers and an 18-member crew — all accounted for.

Academia Sinica research fellow and team leader Hsu Shih-chieh (許世傑) and Lin Yi-chun (林怡君), an assistant engineer at Taiwan Ocean Research Institute, died in the incident, with prosecutors saying that the two drowned during rescue efforts.

The 24 injured were sent to hospitals in Penghu and Chiayi and none of their injuries were said to be life-threatening.

Weng Ying-ming (翁英明), a division head at the EPA’s Environmental Analysis Laboratory, who had been in a cerebral hemorrhage-induced coma since being hospitalized, had regained consciousness yesterday morning and emerged from his critical condition, EPA Minister Wei Kuo-yen (魏國彥) said.

Minister of Science and Technology Simon Chang (張善政) told a press conference yesterday that the vessel set out from Tainan’s Anping Harbor (安平港) on Thursday morning after an assessment of sea conditions found it was safe to undertake the mission. However, at noon on Friday, the crew decided to return to port after an update from the Central Weather Bureau said that weather conditions had deteriorated and that the mission could be jeopardized.

Experts suspect that the ship hit a coral reef near Penghu before sinking, possibly after drifting from its planned route due to high waves and strong currents triggered by Typhoon Vongfong.

Survivors said they heard a banging sound before water began to flow into the vessel around 5pm.

According to 33-year-old researcher Hsu Chia-kuan (許家綸), the ship’s crew was gathering for dinner at about 5pm when the captain said over the intercom that the stern of the ship was leaking.

Hsu Chia-kuan quoted the captain as saying that he had sealed off the compartment, but asked that everyone put on their life vests. Hsu Chia-kuan added that the captain later ordered everyone to prepare to abandon ship.

Hsu Chia-kuan said he saw Hsu Shih-chieh directing people during the evacuation process, adding that it was sad that Hsu had not made it out with the others.

A video released by the Coast Guard Administration documenting the rescue mission showed the ship slanting, with the bow pointing up, before sliding into the sea, as passengers either jumped or were swept into the water.

Eight rescue helicopters, two C-130 transport planes, four navy frigates and five patrol boats were dispatched for the rescue mission, according to the Ministry of National Defense (MND) and coast guard yesterday.

Ministry spokesperson Major General David Lo (羅紹和) said calls came in from National Rescue Command Center at about 5:45pm on Friday requesting the rescue. Helicopters of the air force’s Air Rescue Group, based at central Taiwan’s Chiayi Air Base, went into action immediately at about 6pm.

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