Taiwan navy officials revealed details of the events leading to six crew members falling overboard from the deck of a submarine, December 21, as a search for three of the crew who remain missing entered the sixth day, today, Tuesday, December 26.
Chief of Naval Staff Vice Admiral Wu Li-ping said at a press briefing today that the crew of the Hai Hu (Sea Tiger) submarine were on a training mission in waters off the southwestern coast of Taiwan, December 21. The mission was scheduled to last from December 18 to December 29. The submarine was on a shallow dive, and a snorkel had been deployed so the batteries could be charged, when the captain detected an abnormal noise.
The submarine surfaced, and an inspection revealed that the wooden cover of a rescue buoy had fallen off. The buoy had floated away, but was still attached to a 300-meter-long cable. Four crew members were dispatched to haul the cable and buoy back to the ship.
The crew had to walk on a narrow, one-meter-wide deck. At the stern of the vessel, the deck became even narrower and sloped downwards. There are no guardrails, the Vice Admiral pointed out, and the men were wearing life jackets, and safety harnesses attached to the deck.
A sudden surging wave hit the crewmen, knocking three of them overboard. The three men dangled, still attached by their safety harnesses, but the buckles on the safety harnesses of two of the crewmembers buckled and came loose, causing them to fall into the sea.
The ship’s weapons commander, Major Chen, immediately went to the assistance of the distressed crewmembers. Major Chen also slipped overboard, and his safety harness also became unhooked. Chen was plucked out of the water by a nearby naval frigate, the Yue Fei.
The ship’s captain dispatched six crewmembers to the rescue, but two of that team also fell overboard. One of the men was rescued by the Yue Fei, and the other remains missing along with the original two who fell overboard.
A total of 11 crewmembers had gone onto the deck of the ship, of which six had fallen into the sea.
In the end, the buoy was not recovered. The crew cut the cable and allowed it to float away. The buoy and steel cable were found and recovered by a navy ship on December 23.
Questions have been raised as to whether the captain should have ordered the buoy cut away in the first place, given the sea conditions at the time.
An air and sea search for the missing crew continues today and has been extended for another 72 hours.
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