Chinese sand dredger sinks killing 4, choppers cross Taiwan Strait's median line

China asks Taiwan's Coast Guard for help after dredger ship sinks off coast of Penghu

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Coast Guard officers searching for missing crew members. (CGA photo)

Coast Guard officers searching for missing crew members. (CGA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A Chinese sand dredging ship on Sunday (July 26) sank in waters off Taiwan's Penghu Islands, killing four, and Chinese helicopters crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait during search and rescue efforts.

On Monday (July 27), Taiwan's Coast Guard Administration (CGA) announced that a Chinese sand dredging vessel, identified as the Hongxiang (宏翔) had capsized 48 nautical miles southwest of Penghu's Qimei Island at 7 p.m. on Sunday evening, reported SET News. Nine crew members fell overboard, and although one was quickly rescued, the other eight went missing.

Despite the high probability that the Chinese ship had been illegally dredging sand in Taiwanese territory, China asked for the assistance of the Taiwan CGA in searching for the missing sailors. After receiving a report of the ship's sinking, the CGA dispatched two patrol boats, PP-5053 and RB-03, to the scene and joined Chinese ships on a search and rescue mission.


Coast Guard officers taking part in search and rescue mission. ​​​​​​(CGA photo)

According to the CGA's latest update, the bodies of four crew members have been recovered, while four others remain missing. China sent 18 divers to search for the missing crewmen, while Taiwan dispatched two cutters and three patrol boats to help with the search.

China dispatched two Coast Guard patrol boats and one search and rescue vessel to the scene. It also sent helicopters to search for the lost sailors.

During their search, the Chinese helicopters crossed the Taiwan Strait's median line and entered Taiwan's Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). Taiwan's Air Force stated that it was aware of the movements of the Chinese aircraft and closely monitored their flight paths.


Taiwan Coast Guard cutter takes part in search and rescue efforts. (CGA photo)

Chinese ships have increasingly been found to be dredging sand off the coast of Taiwanese islands, damaging the local ecology. In an effort to halt the illegal practice, the CGA has stepped up patrols around Taiwan's outer islands, seizing and fining Chinese sand dredging vessels caught in the act.

The most recent confrontation occurred on June 3, when the CGA intercepted a flotilla of Chinese dredger ships, also off the coast of Qimei Island. The largest of the ships was escorted to a harbor in Kaohsiung and forced to return the sand to Taiwanese waters.


Taiwan CGA patrol boats intercepting Chinese dredger ship. (CGA photo)

The CGA pointed out that patrol ships intercepted two Chinese dredgers in 2017, 71 in 2018, and 600 in 2019 for a total of 673 vessels over three years. However, the number encountered in the first half of this year has skyrocketed to 2,367, clearly showing that China has a large-scale plan to steal sand from Taiwan's waters.

Such sand-sucking ships can become unstable if they are overloaded. However, the official cause of the accident has not yet been determined.