The legislature’s Transportation Committee yesterday passed a resolution asking the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) to submit a plan to protect visitors to coastal areas after eight people were killed by a rogue wave on the northeast coast on Saturday, and called for the officials responsible to be held accountable.
The accident happened when a group of Shulin Community College students were walking on the Bitou Cape Trail in Longdong Geopark. Eight others were injured.
Lawmakers were particularly angered by remarks made by Hsu Cheng-long (許正隆), director of the Northeast and Yilan Coast National Scenic Area Administration, who reportedly said the agency was morally responsible for the tragedy.
For the scenic area administration to say it is only morally responsible shows that ministry officials are clueless about crisis management, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lu Chia-cheng (盧嘉辰) said.
The Tourism Bureau issued a statement yesterday saying that Hsu would be transferred.
Lu referred to an accident in 1977, in which 32 college students died when the ship they were on capsized in Suao Port, Yilan County. Then-minister of education Chiang Yen-shi (蔣彥士) resigned over the incident, the lawmaker said.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Kuan Bi-ling (管碧玲) said that former Taiwan Provincial Government education director Huang Kun-huei (黃昆輝) also resigned to take responsibility when Fengyuan Senior High School’s auditorium collapsed in 1983, killing 26 teachers and students.
She said the scenic area administration’s careless statement about the rogue wave was unacceptable.
Kuan, who presided over the committee meeting yesterday, said Minister of Transportation and Communications Yeh Kuang-shih (葉匡時) should apologize over the remark before tomorrow, when the committee would meet again.
If he refuses to do so, Yeh should step down, Kuan said.
DPP Legislator Lee Kun-tse (李昆澤) said that cold-blooded government officials are even scarier than rogue waves. He said the administration had been negligent because it only had five policemen patroling the coastline at the time of the accident.
Deputy Minister of Transportation and Communications Jonathan Chen (陳純敬) said the ministry would not shirk its responsibilities.
He said the scenic area administration had set up signs to warn visitors about rogue waves, but it does not have sufficient personnel to monitor the coastline extensively. Chen said the ministry has reached an agreement with the New Taipei City (新北市) Government to increase the number of law enforcement officers assigned to the area.
Chen also said the bureau would re-evaluate all the coastlines in scenic areas to address any safety issues. The bureau is also considering temporarily shutting down coastline walking trails if wind speeds and wave heights reach certain levels.
The Central Weather Bureau said rogue waves generally occur between May and June, and between October and January, particularly in Keelung, Yilan County, Greater Kaohsiung and Pintung County.
About 79 percent of rogue wave accidents happen when people are fishing or involved in water sports, the bureau added.
New Taipei Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫) said security at northeastern coastal areas will be tightened to prevent further accidents.
Chu made the remarks after paying his respects to the dead at the New Taipei City municipal funeral parlor and extending his condolences to bereaved family members.
Chu said the city government will collaborate with the administration to increase safety precautions at the Longdong Geopark, known for its abundant and bizarre rock formations.
“We will also cooperate with the central government closely to ensure safety in northern and northeastern coastal areas, and prevent a repeat of this tragedy,” Chu said.
According to the city government’s plan, it will hold a meeting every two months attended by relevant central government units to review safety measures in northeastern coastal scenic areas.
The city government will also set up a special task force to intensify patrols at select scenic areas on weekends and national holidays, Chu said, adding that an emergency reporting system will be established in the near future.
Chu said the city government will be offering consolation money to the families of the victims.
Additional reporting by CNA