Taiwan Navy's goodwill mission cut short due to COVID-19

Taiwan Navy flotilla consisting of two frigates and a supply ship to return April 9

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A Taiwan Navy Perry-class frigate (Image from Taiwan Navy)

A Taiwan Navy Perry-class frigate (Image from Taiwan Navy)

A goodwill mission of a Republic of China (Taiwan) naval flotilla has been curtailed due to concerns over the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and is scheduled to arrive back in Taiwan on Thursday, according to Defense Minister Yen De-fa (嚴德發).

Yen made the statement while answering questions from a lawmaker regarding the progress of the goodwill mission and the health of its sailors at an interpellation session at the legislature on Wednesday. Taiwan's navy conducts a "minor" goodwill mission every two years, which involves visiting nearby neighbors, and a "major" goodwill mission every four years, which involves visiting countries located as far away as South and Central America.

These missions usually entail a supply ship and two frigates, according to the navy. This year's mission, however, was shortened because the flotilla was unable to visit ports in several countries as planned, except for Palau, which has had no reported COVID-19 cases so far, Yen said.

Even so, Yen went on, the goal of midshipmen training was achieved despite the shortened cruise. This will be the shortest goodwill mission in recent years, lasting for a little over one month, compared with at least two months in previous years, according to naval records.

The crews of the ships will remain quarantined on board after they arrive at their home port of Zuoying (左營) in Kaohsiung, Yen said, stressing that currently, no suspicious symptoms have been noticed among them. They will remain on board until April 15, 30 days after they left Palau, as required by the Ministry of Health, according to the navy.

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) is scheduled to visit the Zuoying naval base on Thursday to personally welcome the returning sailors, although she will only be able to wave at them from the dock as a preventive measure against the coronavirus.