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PRC ship transports caissons to Taiping Island

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PRC ship transports caissons to Taiping Island

Military sources say the Libyan-registered Zhen Hua No. 7, a transport vessel owned and operated by a Chinese firm, arrived at Taiping Island in the Spratlys last week and departed again within the seven working days specified in its application to enter the area. The ship was hired to transport eleven giant caissons being used in the construction of larger port facilities for the island, which is claimed by the ROC and occupied by several hundred Coast Guard personnel from Taiwan.

The Zhen Hua No. 7 picked up the caissons at Anping Harbor and arrived in the waters of Taipei Island on January 25. It unloaded the caissons in place, a process which took about a day and a half, then left the island. One naval vessel from the ROC Navy base at Zuoying and two other naval vessels shadowed the Chinese ship on its voyage to Taiping Island. Taiwan’s Coast Guard also dispatched a ship to monitor the entire process and ensure that there were no attempts to study the hydrological environment along the route.

The delivery of the caissons was originally scheduled to take place in November last year, but the job was delayed when several opposition legislators protested the hiring of the Chinese ship and crew for reasons of national security.

Worried that if further work on the caissons and port is not complete by March the annual southwest swell in the South China Sea could wreck any uncompleted work that has been done, contractors quickly set about filling in the caissons and carrying out the next phase of the project.

In early January the Legislative Yuan passed a resolution asking the government to expedite shipment of the caissons. Seeing that no ships capable of transporting the caissons were available domestically or in other areas of the world, the resolution called for the hiring of a workboat from China, provided that an ad hoc security team would oversee safety and security aspects related to use of a Chinese vessel and crew.

The Zhen Hua No. 7 is a 40,000DWT special heavy transport ship, 243.66 meters long, which can sail at speeds up to 12 knots for a distance of 13,000 nautical miles. It is specially equipped to handle long, overweight items. The ship is owned by Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries.

Military officials say the Zhen Hua No. 7 took on the caissons at Anping January 16 but then was forced to stand by off the coast to wait for calm seas. It finally resumed its voyage on January 22, reaching Taiping Island three days later.