The Tao Aborigines living on Orchid Island (蘭嶼) are generally a welcoming people. However, an unexpected visitor from far away has troubled them for nearly four months now: an Indonesian platform ship that sank off the island’s Langdao Village (朗島). Orchid Island, or Lanyu, is a small island off Taitung County’s that falls under the county’s jurisdiction.
The Tao Aborigines — more than 90 percent of the population on the island — have a unique culture and language that is related to that of the Batanes Islands in the Phillippines.
The Indonesian platform ship Mariam 2 grounded off Langdao Village on the morning of Oct. 8. Later investigation by the government found that the ship had drifted across 2,800km of ocean over 115 days before reaching Lanyu.
The vessel broke in half about a week later because of strong winds in the area, causing vehicles on the vessel, including seven dump trucks, four bulldozers, nine hydraulic shovels, five generators and other machinery, to sink into the sea along with the ship itself.
“The diesel in these vehicles and machines leaked right away, covering a surface as large as two soccer stadiums,” Syaman Karaka, a Lanyu Township official said.
“The diesel wasn’t so much of a problem since there wasn’t so much and it evaporated very quickly,” he said.
“What really worries me is how much damage the metal [of the vehicles] will cause to the underwater ecosystem, especially the coral,” he said.
The Taitung County Environmental Protection Bureau, the Eastern Coast Patrol Office and the Hualien Harbor Bureau were immediately notified after both incidents. However, today the wreckage remains as it was more than three months ago despite government promises to take care of it immediately.
“Is this place not under the jurisdiction of the Republic of China? Are the Taos on Lanyu not citizens of this country?” asked Syaman Womzas, principal of Langdao Elementary School. “We want our basic rights to life and a clean environment — but the government is not responding to us.”
The sunken ship has caused a lot of trouble for the more than 500 residents of Langdao, he said.
“Lanyu is a small island that doesn’t have rich natural resources, so we depend heavily on the ocean for food,” he told the Taipei Times via telephone. “But the ship wreck is not only blocking the harbor, but also preventing villagers from finding crabs, smaller fish or various clams on the tidal flat because it’s sitting right on it.”
The Taos are skillful canoe makers — they still hand carve wooden canoes and use them for fishing. On days when the weather does not permit them to sail, they forage for crabs, clams or small coastal fish on the tidal flat, Syaman Womzas said.
Other than fishing, the Taos also grow sweet potatoes and taro for food.
The harbor bureau, which was put in charge of the incident, rebutted the accusation that the government has done nothing.
“We sent people to [Lanyu] right away upon being notified of the incident,” bureau official Tao Tzu-li (陶自勵) said. “We’ve been asking the owner of the platform ship to remove the ship and the items on board right from the beginning, however, the owner never clearly responded to our demand.”
The bureau issued a warning to the vessel owner, an Indonesian company called P.T. Antar Sarana Reksa (ASR), on Oct. 29, saying that if it did nothing before Nov. 10, it would be fined up to NT$600,000, he said.