Sun, Dec 30, 2007 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: Navy celebrates 20th anniversary for submarines

GROWING THE FLEET The two Dutch-made vessels were the focus of naval celebrations as a budget for more subs has been stalled by KMT legislators

By Jimmy Chuang  /  STAFF REPORTER

The crew of the SS-793 Sea Dragon submarine stand at attention on the submarine's 20th anniversary on Dec.18.

PHOTO: CHANG CHUNG-YI, TAIPEI TIMES

New ships don't come easily for the nation's Navy. While commanding officers were celebrating the 20 years of service for the nation's two Dutch-made Zwaardvis-class diesel-electric submarines earlier this month, they must have been hoping for speedy legislative approval of a budget proposal for eight new US diesel-electric submarines.

The budget remains blocked in the legislature by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). KMT Legislator Su Chi (蘇起) has said that the KMT legislative caucus would continue to debate the submarine purchase next year, while fellow Legislator Kuo Su-chun (郭素春) said the KMT would always support reasonable arms procurement, but continue to block unreasonable purchases.

While attending the celebrations on Dec. 18 marking the 20th anniversary of the SS-793 Sea Dragon and SS-794 Sea Tiger at Mercury Port at the nation's largest naval base in Tsoying, Kaohsiung, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), expressed appreciation for the US government's promise of the eight new vessels, and expressed the hope that the budget proposal would be approved by the legislature as soon as possible so the deal can be carried out.

Mercury Port houses the Navy's full complement of four submarines, which include two US-made Guppy-class (World War II era) vessels -- the SS-791 Sea Lion and SS-792 Sea Leopard -- as well as the two Dutch-made vessels.

The Navy's submarine fleet commander Rear Admiral Huang Shu-kuang (黃曙光) said it was extremely difficult for the Navy to purchase proper submarines for defense purposes. As a result, the Navy has to do all it can to maintain the fleet while the Military of National Defense continues its efforts to buy more ships.

"I would venture that we still have quality submariners despite the age of our vessels. I am also confident that our remaining submarines are all in very good shape and capable of accomplishing all our necessary missions," Huang said.

Just last month, the Sea Tiger and its crew completed a challenging long-term mission. But because of the sensitive nature of the exercise, the Navy could not provide any details.

Naval Commander-in-Chief Admiral Wang Li-shen (王立申) and family members of the Sea Tiger's crew gathered at Mercury Port to welcome the sailors upon their return. Naval tradition has it that when a big welcome like this is arranged it means that the vessel has been out at sea for more than a month.

TOUGH JOB

Retired Rear Admiral Ding Chien-ching (丁劍清), a former commander of the Navy's submarine fleet and the first captain of the Sea Tiger, said that to serve on a submarine is a tough job.

The first group of sailors that was assigned to the two Dutch-made submarines had it even tougher as they participated in the entire building process of the two vessels.

"I am quite proud to say that we know every single nut and bolt on those vessels," Ding said.

The retired captain said he and his fellow sailors arrived in Holland in 1983, when construction was just beginning on the two submarines. Every one of them participated in the process and they also did the final tests on their own when the two vessels were completed.

"Our only hope was to finish the job as soon as possible so the two submarines could begin service as soon as possible," Ding said.

In the Navy, submariners are regarded as hard-working and low-profile navy boys, he said.

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