Sat, Oct 29, 2005 - Page 2 News List

Botched bombing efforts embarrass defense officials

STAFF WRITER

Three weeks after a South Korean freighter carrying more than 2,000 tonnes of benzene capsized off Taoyuan County, the government on Thursday tried to demolish the ship with bombs and missiles.

Although two separate bombing runs failed to sink the ship, the Ministry of National Defense declared the mission a success.

Admitting that it was "embarassing" that the initial effort by two F-16s to bomb and sink the ship failed, Minister of National Defense Lee Jye (李傑) yesterday said the ministry would engage in introspection about the mission.

Lee made the remarks on the legislative floor yesterday while fielding a question from the lawmakers about the ministry's mission to demolish the ship at the request of the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA).

The ship capsized off Taoyuan County on Oct. 10, after colliding with a Taiwanese-owned, Liberian-registered container ship from Hong Kong.

The EPA confirmed that 1ppm (parts per million) of benzene had been detected in the air within 2 nautical miles (3.7km) of the site. The testing results of water samples collected from the surrounding waters also showed a leakage of benzene.

The EPA was afraid that the leak could pollute the area, and affect the safety of other ships. So it decided to blast the ship with the help of the military, after consulting experts at home and abroad.

According to the EPA, as benzene is a highly volatile substance, it would be likely to disperse rapidly into the atmosphere after the ship had been blasted, and that there was little risk of the fumes reaching land.

The ministry sent two F-16 fighter jets equipped with two 2,000 pound laser-guided bombs from an air base in central Taiwan to carry out the mission.

The fighters failed to complete the mission, with only "some" of the bombs hitting the target due to "relatively thick clouds."

Later, two AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters were dispatched. They fired a total of eight Hellfire missiles at the ship on Thursday afternoon. Although they also failed to completely sink the ship, the ministry said the second mission was much more effective than the first one.

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