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Wed, Aug 08, 2001 - Page 4 News List

Coast guard opens northern-most islet to the press

NAVAL DISPLAY As the coast guard showed off its newest patrol vessel, one of those stationed on Pengchiayu islet complained of a lack of drinking water

By Brian Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

The main concentration of military barracks on Pengchiayu, the northern-most islet of Taiwan, which is located 46km off Keelung's harbor.

PHOTO: BRIAN HSU, TAIPEI TIMES.

The coast guard yesterday opened Taiwan's northern-most territory -- Pengchiayu islet (彭佳嶼) -- to the press for the first time, showcasing at the same time one of its newest patrol ships and the insufficiency of the islet's port facilities.

The Pengchiayu islet, 46km off Keelung harbor, is inhabited mainly by members of the coast guard and marines. It has an area of 1.14km2.

The islet used to be guarded by the marines until last year's change of responsibility to the coast guard.

The islet is considered strategically important and surrounding waters regularly serve as a venue for target practice by the navy's warships.

In late June, the navy launched a much-publicized exercise off Pengchiayu, a move interpreted by the local media as a reassertion of Taiwan's sovereignty over the islet and surrounding waters.

The move was considered a response to an incident a month earlier off Pengchiayu -- the kidnapping of a Taiwan fishing crew and their boat by a Chinese police anti-smuggling vessel.

Yesterday, in a clear reassertion of Taiwan's sovereignty over Pengchiayu, the coast guard invited the press to visit the islet.

The coast guard took advantage of the occasion to showcase one of its newest patrol boats -- the 600-tonne Taichung Vessel.

The new ship will be used for standard patrol and anti-smuggling operations.

The boat, built in Taiwan last year, was delivered in March. Based on a German design, the ship looks like a smaller version of the French Lafayette-class frigate.

Because of its tonnage, the Tai-chung Vessel was unable to approach Pengchiayu closely.

The unveiling of the ship in Pengchiayu was possibly an attempt by the coast guard to draw attention to the meager port facilities on the islet.

Passengers on the vessel had to transfer to a fishing boat hired especially for the visit.

Pengchiayu is currently inhabited by 22 coast guard members, 33 marines and a few civil servants who work at a weather observation station and a lighthouse.

Coast guard Sergeant Chang Chih-hua (張志華) complained about tough living conditions on the islet.

"We are short of daily necessities like drinking water. Our daily ration for drinking water is two large bottles. In hot weather like today's, two bottles of water are just not enough," Chang said.

A marine who asked not to be identified said the islet used to have a sea-water desalinator but the machine had been damaged beyond repair "many years ago."

"This means we must rely on the supply of bottled water from Taiwan proper," the marine said.

When asked about the troops' complaints, coast guard officials disagreed with the gripes, claiming that the supply of necessities to the Pengchiayu was regular and

frequent.

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