Beijing planning to deploy rescue vessel to the Spratlys

Fiery Cross reef, located in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Satellite image provided by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Asia Maritime Transparency and taken on Jan 22, 2006.
Fiery Cross reef, located in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Satellite image provided by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Asia Maritime Transparency and taken on Jan 22, 2006.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING • China is considering deploying an advanced rescue ship that may carry drones and underwater robots to the Nansha Islands to help ships in trouble, including foreign vessels, said a senior official.

"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," said political commissar Chen Xingguang of the ship Nanhaijiu 118, under the Transport Ministry's South China Sea Rescue Bureau. He did not specify which island the ship will be based at. The Nansha Islands are also known as the Spratlys.

Nanhaijiu 118 captain Wang Wensong said the proposed ship might be bigger than his 3,700-ton vessel and will be equipped with advanced rescue facilities.

"It might carry drones and underwater robots," he said.

The rescue 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.

Capt Wang said it was decided after that rescue mission to develop underwater search capabilities.

He said the bureau has 31 ships and four helicopters to cover rescue work in the South China Sea, which boasts one of the world's busiest shipping routes. The waters also attract fishermen, who are vulnerable in bad weather.

"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 if it is from a country that has territorial disputes with China, or a country without diplomatic relations with us," he said.

Mr Zhang Zengxiang, deputy head of the shipping division at the Maritime Affairs Bureau in Sansha, Hainan province, said the proposed base station will help with rescue work in the southern part of the South China Sea.

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

He added that the distances are too great for helicopters to cover.

CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2016, with the headline 'Beijing planning to deploy rescue vessel to the Spratlys'. Print Edition | Subscribe