While some foreign research vessels are suspending operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Taiwan is mostly unaffected, with those boarding research vessels required to take regular measures to protect against the disease.
The US University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS), which coordinates oceanographic research vessel use across 59 academic institutions, on March 13 halted operations on its vessels for 30 days, later extending the restriction until July, the weekly magazine Eos, Transactions, American Geophysical Union reported.
In Taiwan, most ocean research appears to be unaffected, despite cluster infections having been reported on the navy supply ship Panshih (磐石) and foreign cruises.
Screengrab from the Web site of National Sun Yat-sen University
National Sun Yat-sen University’s (NSYSU) R/V New Ocean Researcher 3 on Wednesday embarked on its first scientific voyage to the north of the South China Sea, the school said, adding that it is to return tomorrow.
Sixteen crew and technicians, as well as eight researchers, would be involved in surveying the carbon cycle and microplastics in the deep ocean, said the voyage’s lead scientist Hung Chin-chang (洪慶章), the vice dean of NSYSU’s College of Marine Sciences.
Hung said that anyone showing suspected symptoms of COVID-19 would be isolated in the ship’s healthcare room, and the team would immediately inform the university to make arrangements.
The ship would not dock on any islands, while the team would follow disease prevention measures, such as checking their temperatures twice a day, using personal eating utensils, and sanitizing public facilities daily, he said, adding that the supply of masks on the ship was sufficient.
Separately, Taiwan Ocean Research Institute Director Wang Chau-chang (王兆璋) said that most of the R/V Legend’s (勵進) voyages were unaffected by the pandemic, except a trip scheduled to dock in Manila in early March that was canceled due to the outbreak in the Philippines.
Most of the Legend’s missions were conducted in nearby waters, such as near Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island, 太平島) in the South China Sea or the Okinawa Trough in the East China Sea, from which it could sail back to Taiwan within three days, Wang said.
The Legend can carry 43 people, including crew and scientists, at full capacity, he added.
The institute, NSYSU and National Taiwan Ocean University, which operates the New Ocean Researcher 2, have prepared preventive and response plans, including daily temperature checks, the wearing of masks, dining rules and the sanitation of facilities, the Ministry of Science and Technology said in a statement on Friday.
The vessels are equipped with satellite communication systems, and people on board can contact the Coast Guard Administration for help if needed, it added.
The New Ocean Researcher 1, now maintained by CSBC Corp, Taiwan at its shipyard in Keelung, has not yet been transferred to National Taiwan University’s Institute of Oceanography, but the latter said that it has pre-emptively introduced a response plan.
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