Fri, May 31, 2019 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: New marine era unfolds amid hopes, doubts

By Lin Chia-nan  /  Staff reporter

The nation’s first vessel built for ocean research, the Ocean Researcher I, is photographed during a research mission to deploy ocean data buoys in 2017.

Photo courtesy of National Taiwan University Institute of Oceanography

Taiwanese oceanography is sailing into a new era with the establishment of more ocean-related agencies and research facilities, but the government’s inconsistent policies and ill-advised distribution of funds do not bode well for some veteran researchers.

The sinking of the 2,967-tonne Ocean Researcher V on Double Ten National Day in 2014, killing two researchers onboard, was a devastating blow to domestic oceanography.

“The loss is felt by the international community,” the journal Science reported two weeks after the shipwreck.

It also drove a wedge between some academics and the Ministry of Science and Technology’s semi-official Taiwan Ocean Research Institute (TORI), whose decision to outsource vessel crew management proved unwise, said Wei Ching-ling (魏慶琳), a professor at National Taiwan University’s (NTU) Institute of Oceanography and former institute director.

More than four years later, a silver lining has appeared as the 2,629-tonne research vessel Legend (勵進), managed by the TORI, last month completed its first scientific expedition to collect geographical and atmospheric data in the South China Sea.

After the 2014 accident, the institute hired crewmembers itself to improve management, said TORI director Wang Chau-chang (王兆璋), who assumed the post in August 2017.

Three new research vessels — the 2,200-tonne New Ocean Researcher I, 800-tonne New Ocean Researcher II and 800-tonne New Ocean Researcher III built by CSBC Corp — are to be delivered by the end of this year, Minister of Science and Technology Chen Liang-gee (陳良基) said.

Instead of having a government agency manage the vessels as some people have proposed, the ministry plans to have NTU, National Taiwan Ocean University and National Sun Yat-sen University (NSYSU) do so, Chen said.

The new vessels are designed to replace the 794-tonne Ocean Researcher I, 294-tonne Ocean Researcher II and 295-tonne Ocean Researcher III, which are managed by the three universities respectively.

Academics had reasoned with the ministry before it reached a decision, Wei said.

Having managed the Ocean Researcher I for more than three decades, the Institute of Oceanography laid the critical foundation for management of the vessel and its precision instruments.

It has also been commissioned by the ministry to operate its Ocean Data Bank.

However, the successive establishments of the TORI, the Ocean Affairs Council and the National Academy of Marine Research have made consistent planning of overall marine policy difficult, Wei said.

Inaugurated last month, the academy vowed to oversee national marine policy, manage a national ocean database, build a fleet of research vessels and foster the development of power generation from marine currents, among other goals.

In short, it is to take over certain responsibilities from the academia and the ministry.

The ocean-related agencies were often directed by engineers whose policies were seldom grounded in scientific evidence due to their lack of knowledge about oceans, Wei said.

His previous proposal that TORI use their ocean data buoys to monitor maritime and typhoon conditions in waters off Taiwan’s east coast did not meet a positive response, so he sought funds from various sources to support such a plan, which was first conceived by late institute professor Tang Tswen-yung (唐存勇), Wei said.

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