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Human error not to blame for loss of submariners last December: Navy

02/19/2024 03:48 PM
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Submariners onboard the Hai Hu salute to President Tsia Ing-wen when she attends the groundbreaking ceremony for the shipyard to build a locally developed submarine on May 9, 2019. CNA file photo
Submariners onboard the Hai Hu salute to President Tsia Ing-wen when she attends the groundbreaking ceremony for the shipyard to build a locally developed submarine on May 9, 2019. CNA file photo

Taipei, Feb. 9 (CNA) Equipment and environmental reasons and not human error were to blame for the loss of three submariners at sea on Dec. 21, 2023, Taiwan's Navy said Monday.

In a press statement, the Navy said it would not punish any of the Hai Hu's (海虎) crew after an investigation determined that the boat's captain had made the correct decision to retrieve a safety buoy.

Three crew members -- a master chief petty officer surnamed Lin (林), and two petty officers surnamed Yen (顏) and Chang (張) -- are still unaccounted for after being swept from the submarine's deck by a wave during the incident.

The Navy's statement came after retired Navy Captain Wang Jyh-perng (王志鵬) called for the Hai Hu's captain to be punished.

In a report published by the Chinese-language United Daily News, Wang said the Hai Hu's captain had made the "wrong decision" in attempting to retrieve the safety buoy, and should therefore be held responsible for the loss of the three crew members.

However, the Navy said that the captain of the Hai Hu made the correct decision in asking his crewmen to retrieve the buoy based on the "maintenance implementation measures," which call for regular checks of the submarine's equipment.

Following an initial probe of the incident back in late December, the Navy said that sudden waves and the deforming of buckles tethering crew members to the Hai Hu's deck were likely to blame for the incident.

President Tsai Ing-wen (center) visits one of the soldiers injured in the submarine incident in Kaohsiung on Dec. 26, 2023. File photo courtesy of Presidential Office
President Tsai Ing-wen (center) visits one of the soldiers injured in the submarine incident in Kaohsiung on Dec. 26, 2023. File photo courtesy of Presidential Office

 According to comments from Chief of Naval Staff Vice Admiral Wu Li-ping (吳立平) made on Dec. 26, at around noon on Dec. 21, while the submarine was operating under the sea, the Hai Hu's crew heard "abnormal sounds" coming from the rear part of the vessel that they eventually identified as coming from a safety buoy.

The buoy was floating outside the submarine after the wooden cover of its compartment in the vessel fell off, for reasons the Navy has yet to determine.

Fearing that the 300-meter steel cable the buoy was attached to could damage the submarine's propeller blades, the captain decided to bring the submarine to the surface and have crew members go to the ship's deck to recover the buoy, Wu said.

Four crew members, who were all wearing life jackets and were tethered to the deck by safety harnesses, were initially sent out to retrieve the buoy.

Two of those on the Hai Hu's deck were swept into the sea because the buckles connecting their harnesses to the line were deformed under the stress of the weather conditions and came loose, Wu said.

A third crew member swept off the deck was pulled from the water alive as his safety buckle was functioning properly, Wu added.

After hearing that the crew members were overboard, the ship's weapons system chief went to the submarine deck himself to rescue them. He later fell into the sea but was quickly saved, Wu said.

Later, the captain sent another six crew members, who were assigned to the sub's rescue team in case of an emergency, to the deck to rescue the crew members who had gone missing while trying to retrieve the buoy.

One of the six was also later thrown overboard due to a rogue wave and went missing, Wu said.

As of today, the three missing crew members have yet to be located despite the Navy dispatching more than 1,500 sorties of vessels and 600 plus sorties of aircraft on search and rescue missions.

(By Matt Yu and Joseph Yeh)

Enditem/ASG

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