Ministry promises probe into swimming incident

By Loa Iok-sin  /  Staff reporter, with CNA

Tue, Apr 23, 2013 - Page 3

Minister of the Interior Lee Hong-yuan (李鴻源) yesterday acknowledged that there were flaws in the preparations for a swimming race in Kenting (墾丁) that ended in disaster on Sunday and promised lawmakers that he would launch a probe into the incident.

“We had made emergency response preparations by deploying 250 lifeguards, 30 divers, 10 wet bikes, 30 bamboo rafts and two ships provided by the Coast Guard Administration,” Kenting National Park Headquarters director Chen Chen-jung (陳貞蓉) told a question-and-answer session at the Internal Administration Committee. “However, I have to admit that we didn’t have a drill on how to respond to an accident like this. Actually, we’ve never had one [like this] before.”

More than 300 swimmers out of 4,300 who took part in the swimming contest organized by the Kaohsiung Adult Swimming Association along the coast of Kenting, Hengchun Township (恆春), in Pingtung County were swept away by currents and strong winds, with some seriously injured, on Sunday.

Two of the seven swimmers hospitalized — 61-year-old Shih Nan-ching (施南靖) and 73-year-old Wang Ching-tzi (王靜子) — were seriously injured.

The incident raised concern among lawmakers across party lines who asked whether ministry officials were prepared to deal with emergency situations in such events.

“As the government authority in charge of overseeing the event, Kenting National Park Headquarters obviously was not fully prepared to respond to the incident,” Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁) said.

Lee admitted that there were defects in the ministry’s preparation for the event and promised to launch an investigation.

“The probe will be done in a month, and a report that includes the list of officials to be held responsible will be delivered to the legislature,” he said.

Pingtung County Commissioner Tsao Chi-hung (曹啟鴻) said the county would provide unmanned aerial vehicles to support similar sports events and help injured people get medical assistance.

Meanwhile, the Central Weather Bureau and experts said the event organizer was negligent and suggested that regulations for holding outdoor swim meets be formulated.

The bureau said it would make routine weather forecasts at 5am every day, including wind and wave forecasts for coastal areas, to help event organizers in the future.

Taiwan has 14 outlying weather buoy stations that provide wave and wind reports and send related information back to the bureau every hour through mobile phones and satellite phones. One such station is located near the scene of the incident.