The Executive Yuan has agreed to earmark NT$3.3 billion (US$110.24 million) for the construction of a new wharf on Itu Aba (Taiping Island, 太平島), the largest islet in the Spratlys (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) archipelago in the South China Sea, local media reported on Monday.
The new pier, set for completion by late 2015, will be able to accommodate 2,000-tonne frigates, 600-tonne radar-evading corvettes — developed under a program known as Hsun Hai or “Swift Sea” — and the navy’s Kuang Hua VI-class missile boats, according to the reports.
Taiping Island lies about 1,600km southwest of Greater Kaohsiung and has been under Taiwan’s control for nearly six decades. However, countries including the Philippines, Vietnam and China, continue to challenge Taiwan’s sovereignty of the islet, the largest in the Spratlys.
The Coast Guard Administration (CGA) has appropriated NT$18 million in its budget for this year to finance a feasibility study on constructing the new wharf.
The study is scheduled for conclusion in late September. Initial results support the construction project, an Executive Yuan official said.
The CGA has asked the Cabinet to use its second reserve fund to finance an open tender for the planning and design of the wharf between September and December, according to the official.
If the design and exact location of the wharf as well as procedures and techniques to be employed in the project can be determined in December, construction will get underway early next year, the official said.
Construction of the wharf will cost more than NT$3 billion because shipping building materials to Taiping Island will be expensive due to its long distance from Taiwan, a Ministry official said.
Once the design of the wharf is decided, experts in hydrology, wind direction and geology will inspect the island to select the best site for the wharf.
As Taiping Island is an off-limits area, the transportation ministry official said no environmental impact assessment is required for the wharf project.
Some officials said the project could be seen as a prelude to an extension of a runway on the island.
As a runway extension would require sophisticated machines and equipment, a modern wharf is a prerequisite for transporting such material to the remote island.
The CGA has already set aside NT$140 million to improve defense facilities on Taiping Island and the Pratas Islands (Dongsha Islands, 東沙群島) in the South China Sea this year.
The air force has expressed the hope that the island’s runway can be extended from 1,150m to 1,500m to enable military aircraft to operate more safely.
Military authorities said that building a modern wharf would be the first step toward strengthening Taiwan’s defenses on Taiping Island.