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Taiwan's indigenous submarine project enters rough waters amid coronavirus restrictions

Up to 30 foreign engineering consultants entered quarantine in early March, others kept away by new ban on foreign visitors

Groundbreaking ceremony in Kaohsiung in May 2019. 

Groundbreaking ceremony in Kaohsiung in May 2019.  (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has spilled over into the global financial market, the real economy and, surprisingly, Taiwan's indigenous diesel submarine (IDS) project, as dozens of foreign consultants have been denied lodging or barred from entering the country after the new ban on foreign visitors.

To counter China's growing military threat, Taiwan plans to build a fleet of eight diesel-electric submarines to replace the Navy’s four aging vessels.

The country last May broke ground on a shipyard in Kaohsiung to produce the submarines. The facility was slated for completion by the end of May of this year, with construction on a segment of one ship to kick off on June 1.

Up to 30 contracted engineering consultants from Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, the United States, Japan, and Korea arrived in early March to take part in various parts of the project, reported Up Media. They were meant to provide technical advice to the Taiwanese team building the attack submarines from scratch.

However, the hotel rooms the foreign consultants had confirmed were denied to them when they showed up with their passports and hotel staff discovered they came from countries listed as high-risk areas. To help them find accommodations, the Taiwanese shipbuilding company CSBC hurriedly rented a small business hotel so the consultants could undergo self-quarantine in individual rooms.

While the foreign consultants are under 16-day home quarantines, they will still provide technical assistance to the local shipbuilding team via video call to ensure there are no delays in the project.

As for those who are not yet on board, some have reportedly postponed their trips. In addition, the Europe-built equipment necessary for shipbuilding is unlikely to be delivered by May 31 as scheduled due to the epidemic.

Taiwan's Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) on Wednesday (March 18) announced that as imported cases of Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) continue to rise, all foreign visitors will be barred from entering the country, and all arrivals in Taiwan must undergo a 14-day quarantine effective Thursday (March 19). Only foreigners holding an Alien Resident Certificate (ARC), diplomatic officials, and businesspeople with special entry permits are allowed to enter the country.