Two-hundred-and-sixty-nine gold plaques worth a total of NT$1.6 million (US$54,000), entrusted by the Da Wang Temple on Dongsha Island (東沙島) to the Coast Guard Administration (CGA) for safekeeping, were reported stolen earlier this month.
The Da Wang Temple, a shrine to the God of War and patron saint of business, Guan Gong (關公), a general in the late Eastern Han Dynasty who was immortalized, is the religious center of the island and is believed to have offered protection to all coast-guard personnel and fishermen on the island.
The gold plaques, weighing 1.5kg in total, were donated to the temple by fishermen or retired coast guard personnel and soldiers, and were locked up in a safe at the CGA office for safekeeping.
On April 12, Greater Kaohsiung police received a call from the island reporting that all 269 plaques had been stolen.
Although police initially thought it was a prank call, because they had never received a call from the island before, they ascertained the identity of the callers and turned the case over to the Gushan Precinct, which is in charge of the Dongsha area.
However, police said the exact date of the theft was difficult to pinpoint.
CGA Southern Coast Patrol Office Deputy Director Hu Chung-an (胡忠安) said the chief petty officer in charge of the safe had been on leave on Taiwan proper from Feb. 23 through March 1, and upon his return to the office he found that the plaques were gone.
The theft report was also delayed as the officer at first thought that he entered the wrong code and could not open the safe, as the safe’s combination locks were acting “a bit weird and would not open normally,” or that he opened the wrong safe, as there were multiple safes in the office, Hu said.
Because there are no locksmiths on Dongsha Island, the CGA office had to hire one from Taiwan proper and have him fly to Dongsha to open the locks. The process took nearly a month before the plaques were confirmed to have been stolen, Hu said.
Police said a team was dispatched to Dongsha Island on Wednesday, but made it clear that the “CGA has judicial authority there and that the police are only there offering forensic support and seeing if any fingerprints can be collected.”
“We have already collected several prints in the vicinity of the safes and we aren’t ruling out getting a few selected staff members at the office to take lie detector tests,” the police said.
Translated by Jake Chung, Staff Writer