Wed, Sep 03, 2003 - Page 4 News List

Navy speaks on sub-rescue pact

AT BAY A financial arrangement with the US that allows Taiwan to `rent' a rescue vessel in case of an underwater submarine disaster is likely to remain intact for years

By Brian Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

The high cost of a submarine-rescue service agreement with the US has led some to wonder whether the navy is considering other options to secure the safety of the crews of the nation's four subs, but according to unnamed sources, there is no plan to do so, even though it could take more than a day for the Americans to come to the rescue.

The agreement was the work of ex-navy commander-in-chief retired Admiral Nelson Ku (顧崇廉), who is now a PFP lawmaker. Ku was the navy's chief from 1994 to 1997.

The agreement was one of Ku's greatest contributions to the navy, because a distressed submarine would have had to rely on its own devices before it was signed.

Submarine crews doubtless have peace of mind under the rescue agreement, but it has come to light that the navy is paying a large sum of money for a program which has never been used. No information is available about the cost of the program because those party to the agreement are sworn to secrecy.

The navy currently has four submarines, including two older vessels acquired from the US and two modern ones bought from the Netherlands.

Before the navy signed the submarine-rescue agreement with the US during Ku's term as the navy chief, the the crew of four submarines could only hope for a miracle if they had an accident that incapacitated the vessel.

An official with the navy, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the navy's submarine rescue agreement with the US is confidential and that it is not proper for the navy to openly discuss it.

According to Chinese-language news reports on the subject, the navy's agreement with the US states that the US is required to send a deep submergence rescue vehicle (DSRV) to Taiwan in the shortest time possible if any of Taiwan's four submarines become disabled.

If needed, a DSRV would be delivered to Taiwan via a transport airplane and then shipped to the accident site via a ship.

Two years ago, one of the two Holland-made submarines struck an underwater object, sustaining considerable damage to its bow. It is probably the only occasion that the navy came close to having a need for the DSRV service.

Taiwan's military periodically comes under pressure from industries and legislators to help stimulate the local economy by refusing to buy from foreign sources and sign contracts with local companies, but in the case of submarine rescue, it appears as though there are few alternatives. Asked about whether it is necessary for Taiwan to develop its own submarine-rescue capabilities, the navy said it has no such plan at the moment because the cost would be too high.

In 10 years, the navy might buy another eight diesel-electric submarines from the US. After these eight submarines go into service, the navy would be faced with an increased possibility of experiencing a submarine disaster.

Even under this scenario, the navy responded by saying that the cost likely would be prohibitive.

A naval official said that although foreign aid might not be able to come on time, a disabled submarine has enough oxygen for its crew for two days.

"In two days, the DSRV could arrive here," a naval official said.

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