Rescue vessel eyed for the Nansha Islands

Updated: 2016-05-27 08:14

By Li Xiaokun and Liu Xiaoli(China Daily Europe)

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China is considering deploying an advanced rescue ship that could carry drones and underwater robots to the Nansha Islands this year to help ships in trouble, including foreign vessels.

Chen Xingguang, military officer of the ship Nanhaijiu 118, part of a fleet controlled by the Ministry of Transport's South China Sea Rescue Bureau, told China Daily of the plans.

"Our bureau is planning a duty post in the Nansha Islands, with a ship based there. This will possibly be carried out in the second half of the year," Chen says, without specifying which island the ship will be based at.

 Rescue vessel eyed for the Nansha Islands

Crew members of the Nanhaijiu 118 conduct a rescue drill on May 11. [Photo by Liu Xiaoli / China Daily]

Wang Wensong, captain of the Nanhaijiu 118, says the ship proposed for the mission might be bigger than his 3,700-metric-ton vessel and will be equipped with advanced rescue facilities. "It might carry drones and underwater robots," he says.

Rescue vessel eyed for the Nansha Islands

The bureau was involved in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which disappeared more than two years ago on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Wang says it was decided after this mission to develop underwater search capabilities.

He says the bureau has 31 ships and four helicopters to cover rescue work in the South China Sea. Other forces, such as the military, may join rescue efforts.

"The international shipping routes near the Nansha Islands are very busy. Such a big area means quite a number of ships could get into trouble," the captain says.

The South China Sea boasts one of the world's busiest shipping routes, with about 40 percent of global cargoes shipped annually passing through these waters. It also attracts many fishermen, who can be vulnerable in frequent typhoons.

Zhang Zengxiang, deputy director of shipping at the maritime affairs bureau in Sansha, Hainan province, says the proposed base station will help with rescue work in the southern South China Sea.

"The main difficulty in rescue work around the Nansha Islands is the long distances," he says, adding that the Nanhaijiu 118, built last year, has to sail for nearly two days to reach the Nansha Islands from the Xisha Islands.

He adds that he distance is too great for helicopters, the most efficient way to save lives at sea. The main way to handle accidents in the area at present is to arrange for vessels passing by to help.

Boat captain Wang says: "We will try our best to save any vessel sending distress signals in waters under our jurisdiction, no matter what country a vessel is from - even it is from a country that has territorial disputes with China, or a country without diplomatic relations with us. These are not problems."

Beijing has promised to develop its search and rescue capabilities in the South China Sea to "provide necessary assistance" to both Chinese and foreign vessels.

In 2006, Wang, then first officer of the Nanhaijiu 111, worked with other Chinese rescuers to search a vast area after a typhoon. They located 22 Vietnamese fishing ships at Hanoi's request and rescued 330 Vietnamese fishermen.

Wang says the growing number of rescue forces in the South China Sea will help with China's Belt and Road Initiative and business worldwide.

"Shipping is the major way to send cargo, and a guaranteed international route is good news for all countries."

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Rescue vessel eyed for the Nansha Islands

Rescue vessel eyed for the Nansha Islands