A multi-agency humanitarian rescue drill was held yesterday in waters near Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island, 太平島) in the South China Sea, the first of its kind since President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) spoke of the government’s intention to turn the island into a base for humanitarian assistance.
Three aircraft and eight vessels took part in the exercise, code-named “Nanyuan No. 1,” or “Southern Aid,” the Coast Guard Administration (CGA) said.
CGA Director-General Lee Chung-wei (李仲威) oversaw the drill, with reporters from several international wire services and Japanese media outlets invited to cover the proceedings, the agency said.
Photo: Sam Yeh, AFP
The drill simulated a fire on the deck of a foreign cargo ship, with injured crewmembers abandoning ship near Itu Aba.
The National Search and Rescue Center dispatched Republic of China (ROC) Navy and CGA vessels to the scene, where they plucked the stand-ins from the sea and transported them to the island.
The “victims” were taken to the Itu Aba hospital where medical staff simulated treatment scenarios with assistance from colleagues in Taiwan proper via a video link.
The crewmembers were then transported to a hospital in Pingtung County on an ROC Air Force C-130.
Ships that participated in the drill included the Kaohsiung, a 3,000-tonne coast guard vessel, and the Panshi, a fast combat-support ship that can provide medical services on par with an army field hospital.
The drill took place following an interview last month in which Tsai spoke of government plans for Itu Aba.
Tsai told the Yomiuri Shimbun that Taiwan had begun to improve facilities on the island with the hope of building it into a base for humanitarian assistance and scientific research.
Other nations are welcome to cooperate with Taiwan in this endeavor, she said.
Since the CGA took over responsibility for the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) and Pratas Islands (Dongsha Islands, 東沙群島) to the north from the Marine Corps in 2000, it has assisted 100 people in 70 emergencies in South China Sea waters, the CGA said.
Itu Aba is the largest of the naturally occurring islands in the Spratly chain.
The CGA said it would continue to step up rescue cooperations with peripheral countries to implement the policy of turning Itu Aba into a humanitarian rescue center, and supply and logistics base.
Six countries — Taiwan, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brune — claim sovereignty over all or parts of the South China Sea.
Foreign reporters were invited to Itu Aba for the first time in March during the administration of former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to buttress Taiwan’s case that it is an “island” and not just a “rock” as the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague has said.
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