Geological and meteorological experts yesterday urged the government to reinforce the sea warning mechanism on the nation’s northeast coast in view of the rogue wave that killed eight visitors last weekend.
Tourism Bureau officials and three college professors went to Bitou Cape Park, where the accident occurred, to better determine measures to ensure visitors’ safety in the future.
Kao Chia-chuen (高家俊), a professor at National Cheng Kung University’s Department of Hydraulic and Ocean Engineering, said the government should enhance its rogue wave warning system.
Setting up such a system would require more data collected from long-term observation, he said.
While many advanced countries have been accumulating sea weather data for 50 to 60 years, Taiwan only began to do so about two decades ago. Some lawmakers suggested that the government build walking trails to protect visitors, but Kao said that such facilities could be easily destroyed by a typhoon or during the winter.
Doong Dong-jiing (董東璟), an associate professor at National Ocean University’s Department Of Marine Environmental Informatics, said that the victims of the accident were caught off guard because it seemed like typical autumn weather.
He said that information collected from a buoy showed the south wind was blowing in the Longdong (龍洞) area, in which the park is located, on Friday last week. Meanwhile, waves were between 1m to 1.5m in height and increased slightly to 2m on Saturday. Neither phenomenon was unusual on the northeast coast in the fall, he said.
However, the swells generated by Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines on Friday afternoon had arrived at Longdong on Saturday afternoon, traveling at 45kph. Visitors in the park were then struck by the strongest wave coming from the Philippines, he said.
Doong also mapped out the places at which the nation’s rogue wave accidents have occurred over the past 14 years. His record showed a total of 263 freak wave accidents had struck between 2000 and this year, with more than 50 percent of them being found in the coastal areas of New Taipei City (新北市), Keelung and Yilan. More than 100 people died in the accidents.
He also said that the number of freak wave accidents during the typhoon season accounted for only about 6 percent of the total. Many of the accidents occurred outside the typhoon season, he said.
National Taiwan University geography professor Lin Jin-chuan (林俊全) said the northeast coastline’s distinct topography has drawn praise from Japanese experts, who think more Japanese tourists should visit.
He said he does not want the tragic incident to stop people from coming to the park, which is the best location to teach people about the natural environment.
He said that the bureau could install more warning signs about rogue waves in the park, as well as increase the number of the life buoys and life vests.
Because waves severely erode the coast, Lin said that any manmade facility to protect visitors could turn out to be a waste of money.
In response, Tourism Bureau Director-General David Hsieh (謝謂君) said the bureau would educate the public about the dangers of rogue waves.
Hsieh added that the bureau would consider banning the entry of visitors to the park when the wind and waves reach certain standards.
Currently, the bureau starts restricting entry when the wind reaches level 8 on the Beaufort scale and waves reach 6m in height.