Three remain missing in sub accident: Taiwan Navy

Taiwan Navy’s naval staff chief said the trio were swept away by sudden strong waves during training.
By RFA Staff
2023.12.26
Three remain missing in sub accident: Taiwan Navy Submarines are seen at a navy base in Kaohsiung, Taiwan March 21, 2017.
Tyrone Siu/Reuters

The search continues for three crew members of a Taiwanese submarine, who were swept off their boat by a sudden large wave last week, Taiwan’s Navy has said.

The accident took place last Thursday when the Hai Hu (Sea Tiger) submarine was on a training mission in southeastern Taiwan, but it was not covered extensively in the media over the festive period.

Despite the window known as “golden 72 hours,” when the survival rate of the victims is high, having long passed, the search-and-rescue mission has not stopped.

"All officers and soldiers are brothers and sisters and we will not give up the search and rescue of anyone," Chief of Naval Staff Vice Adm. Wu Li-ping told a press briefing in Taipei on Tuesday.

Rogue waves

At around noon on Dec. 21, four crew members were sent up to the deck of the sub to recover a rescue buoy that was detached for unknown reasons. All of them were wearing life jackets and safety harnesses, the vice admiral said.

Three of them were swept off the deck by a sudden large wave but one of the three was saved because his safety harness was working. 

Among the team of six crew who were sent later to the deck to rescue the initial four members, two were also swept overboard – one was rescued but the other one disappeared.

The three missing sailors have been identified by their last names as Lin, Yen and Chang.

Wu said that as the weather conditions on that day were within safety standards, an unexpected surge in the sea was likely the main reason for the accident.

The Hai Hu left the southern port of Kaohsiung on Dec. 18 for a training exercise that is set to finish on Dec. 29.

Hai Hu, together with another submarine named Hai Lung (Sea Dragon), are the only two combat-ready submersible vessels in the Taiwan Navy. 

The diesel-electric attack submarines were bought from the Netherlands in the 1980s and are a modified version of the Dutch Navy’s Zwaardvis class. 

Taiwan is building its first indigenous submarine, the Hai Kun (Narwhal) with a budget of US$1.54 billion. The Navy hopes to have three submarines with full combat capabilities by 2025 and four by 2027.

Meanwhile Taiwan’s defense ministry said on Tuesday that it has not seen any signs of large-scale Chinese military activity around the island even as presidential and parliamentary elections come nearer.

The election outcomes are expected to play a decisive role in the relations with mainland China.

So far we haven't seen signs they're making big moves,” said a defense ministry spokesman, Sun Li-fang at a press briefing in Taipei. “We are watching all the time.”

The Chinese military often holds drills around Taiwan at the times of big political events, such as the visit to Taipei by the U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Aug. 2022 or Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s meeting with U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in Apr. 2023.

Edited by Taejun Kang and Elaine Chan.

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