Thursday, September 17, 2009

Submarine captain's body recovered off southern Taiwan

The body of a submarine captain who was washed off the conning tower of his vessel by strong waves during a drill two days ago was recovered early Wednesday after an intensive search, military authorities said.The body of Chen Chi-tsung, captain of the submarine Hai Lung, was reclaimed from the sea 3.1 nautical miles southwest of Zuoying naval base near southern Taiwan's Kaohsiung City at 7: 45 a.m., naval sources said.

Chen's body was taken to the morgue of a naval hospital where a makeshift funeral hall was set up for his superiors and colleagues to pay their last respects to him."Military authorities deeply regret the captain's tragic death, " Navy Commanding General Adm. Kao Kuang-chi said after presiding over a memorial service in which Chen was accorded full military honors.As the 47-year-old captain lost his life in the line of duty, Kao said, the military will offer compensation to his bereaved family members on the best possible terms. Chen had served in the Navy since 1988.

Moreover, Kao said the Navy will review and make necessary improvements to its standard operating procedures to prevent similar tragedies from reoccurring.Vice Adm. Sun Yi-cheng, director of the Political Warfare Department at the Navy Command Headquarters, said the Navy has learned a painful from the accident and will strengthen safety measures.From now on, Sun said, all naval personnel working on the decks of warships or on the raised observation towers of submarines will be required to put on a life jacket and safety line hooked up to the hull of the vessel.

While rough weather was believed to be the major reason leading to Chen's death, Sun said the Navy is still conducting a thorough investigation on the incident in hopes of getting to the bottom of how it occurred.Erich Shih, chief convener of the Defence International magazine, said a similar tragedy happened in the U.S. Navy eight or nine years ago, in which a naval captain fell overboard into the seas during an exercise.The U.S. Navy has since demanded its personnel working on decks or on conning towers wear a life vest and safety line hooked up to the hull of the vessel.

"It is regrettable that our navy had failed to take that bitter lesson as its own," Shih said, adding that the Navy has no excuse in dragging its feet any more on overhauling its safety regulations.The Hai Lung, a 66.92 meter submarine modeled on the Netherlands' Zwaardvis-class submarine, was commissioned in the late 1980s.It is 8.4 meters wide and is equipped with six 21-inch torpedo launchers and advanced navigation and combat systems. It has the capacity to carry 11 officers and 66 crew members.

The Hai Lung and another Zwaardvis-class sub, the Hai Hu, as well as two other types of submarines, form the backbone of the navy's underwater defense force and are responsible for anti-submarine and coastal surveillance missions.

(By Sofia Wu)

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