The Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) said yesterday that it is considering raising the percentage of passenger ships subject to random inspections by the seaport authority from 6 percent to 20 percent following the shipwreck of a South Korean ferry on Wednesday last week.
The potential policy change was proposed at a meeting of the legislature’s Transportation Committee in Taipei yesterday, when the committee was scheduled to address the budget for the ministry for the fiscal year 2014.
Members of the committee were concerned what the government would do to prevent similar tragedies from happening in Taiwan.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Lee Kun-tse (李昆澤) said that the South Korean ferry Sewol capsized and sank within two hours suggested that there was something wrong with the structure of the ferry.
He said Taiwan has several large roll-on roll-off ships like Sewol, such as the Taima (台馬輪), Taihua (台華輪) and Hofu (合富輪) ferries and that these vessels have been in operation for an average of 25 years, making them older than the South Korean ferry.
Lee cited statistics from the Maritime and Ports Bureau, showing that the nation has about 2.5 million shipping service passengers per year.
Under the Ships Act (船舶法), the bureau is supposed to conduct an annual inspection and a special inspection once every five years.
The bureau can also launch random inspections at short notice. Though the nation’s seaports also provide services to 190,000 vessels per year, only about 6 percent of them are subject to random inspections by the bureau, Lee said.
In response, MOTC Minister Yeh Kuang-shih (葉匡時) said the ministry would widen its random inspections of the large roll-on roll-off ships and make sure that shippers meet safety requirements.
“We have completed random inspections this month. They will be followed by emergency response drills, which are to be completed within one month. Then we will hold explanatory sessions informing the shipping firms about the inspection rules,” bureau director general Chi Wen-jong (祁文中) added.