Military officials yesterday confirmed that Republic of China Navy warships have docked at a recently completed pier on Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island, 太平島) in the South China Sea, and said the pier would also be able to accommodate the 10,000-tonne Panshih fast combat support ship.
The Naval Command Headquarters Office said public acknowledgment can help to enhance Taiwan’s sovereignty claim over Itu Aba and its surrounding marine territories, as it indicates the capability to maintain access to its sea lanes, and the area is under the control and protection of the navy.
The Naval Meteorological and Oceanographic Office on Monday published a warning for commercial maritime shipping of a submerged reef in the area in its Notice to Mariners, which naval authorities issue regularly to advise ships of important matters affecting navigational safety, new hydrographic information, changes in sea channels and aids to navigation.
Photo: CNA, provided by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lin Yu-fang
The notice gave the longitude and latitude of the submerged reef, with the information that it has a radius of 4m and charted depth of 3.8m, adding that “mariners are advised to navigate with caution in this area.”
Reports of the warship’s docking came to light when a group of university students returned to Taiwan on Friday after a field trip to the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) organized by the Ministry of National Defense.
They boarded a Kang Ding-class frigate — a modified and renovated French-built La Fayette-class frigate — to sail from Zuoying Naval Base in Kaohsiung to Itu Aba, and docked at the island’s new pier, which was completed at the end of last year.
Naval officials confirmed that other warships have also docked at the pier, including the 5,000-tonne Chung Ho-class tank landing ship LST-232, to supply the remote outpost island, which is also claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines and China.
Reports said that the pier, with its 210m berth, can accommodate the Panshih, the nation’s fast combat support ship.
Development work on the island began in 2014 with a NT$3.3 billion (US$101.15 million) budget to build two new piers and a lighthouse, and extend the island’s airstrip to 1,195m to accommodate C-130 military transport aircraft.
The contract was awarded to the Taiwan Area National Expressway Engineering Bureau, with the work including improvements to the island’s electrical lighting; a storm sewer line; oil tanks and oil transmission pipelines; new paving for the airstrip; and expansion of the hangar area to accommodate two C-130 planes.
On Friday, a week before the end of his term, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) organized trips for local and international media, as well as a delegation of former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) officials, to visit the disputed island.
Ma said that was to assert the nation’s sovereignty over Itu Aba, and the surrounding atolls and islets in the region, while opposition parties and other nations have said the actions escalated tensions in the South China Sea, and other critics have said it represented an attempt by Ma to claim the area on behalf of China.
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