China will deploy a rescue ship to the disputed Nansha islands (also known as the Spratly group of Islands) in the South China Sea in the coming months to help distressed local and foreign ships as well as to respond to disasters at sea, the Ministry of Transport said.
Chen Xingguang, head of the country’s South China Sea rescue bureau, said the advanced rescue vessel will carry drones and underwater robots to help in search and rescue missions in the disputed waters.
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“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 said.
Chen did not indicate where exactly the ship will be stationed in the disputed Spratly Islands which are also being claimed by the Philippines and Taiwan.
Chen said the rescue ship which is being considered to be deployed to the Spratly islands will be bigger than a 3,700-ton vessel equipped with sophisticated facilities to help vessels which are in trouble in the open sea.
Wang Wensong, the captain of the Nanhaiju 118, said the Chinese navy has several amphibious vessels and air assets that can conduct rescue missions in the contested South China Sea.
At present, the bureau has 37 ships and four helicopters, which could be used in rescue efforts.
Chen said if the fleet is not enough, the bureau could send the military to participate in the rescue operations in the international waterway.
“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 said.
The South China Sea, believed to be rich in oil and gas, is one of the world’s busiest shipping routes. Up to $5 trillion worth of ship-borne trade passes through the waters each year.
It is also a rich fishing ground for fishermen. The South Chin Sea is prone to experience powerful typhoons. This is apparently part of the reasons why Beijing has proposed to send a rescue vessel to the area.
Wang said conducting rescue missions in the South China Sea is difficult due to the long distance a helicopter and a ship will have to travel. Establishing a rescue base in the sea and deploying several ships passing by the area to help is the most practical and speedy way to handle the rescue efforts, he pointed out.
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