Drones and robots could be used to help ships that get into difficulties
[China Daily (May 23, 2016)]: China is considering deploying an advanced rescue ship that could carry drones and underwater robots to the Nansha Islands this year to help ships in trouble, including foreign vessels.
Chen Xingguang, political commissar of the ship Nanhaijiu 118, under the Ministry of Transport's South China Sea Rescue Bureau, told China Daily of the plans.
"Our bureau is planning a duty post in the Nansha Islands, with a ship based there. This will possibly be carried out in the second half of the year," Chen said, without specifying which island the ship will be based at.
Wang Wensong, captain of the Nanhaijiu 118, said the ship proposed for the mission might be bigger than his 3,700-ton vessel and will be equipped with advanced rescue facilities. "It might carry drones and underwater robots," Wang said.
The bureau was involved in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which disappeared more than two years ago on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Wang said it was decided after this mission to develop underwater search capabilities.
He said the bureau has 31 ships and four helicopters to cover rescue work in the South China Sea. Other forces, such as the military, may join rescue efforts.
"The international shipping routes near the Nansha Islands are very busy. Such a big area means quite a number of ships could get into trouble," the captain said.
The South China Sea boasts one of the world's busiest shipping routes, with about 40 percent of global cargoes shipped annually passing through these waters. It also attracts many fishermen, who can be vulnerable in frequent typhoons.
Zhang Zengxiang, deputy head of the Shipping Division at the Maritime Affairs Bureau in Sansha, Hainan province, said the proposed base station will help with rescue work in the southern South China Sea.
"The main difficulty in rescue work around the Nansha Islands is the long distances," he said, adding that the Nanhaijiu 118, built last year, has to sail for nearly two days to reach the Nansha Islands from the Xisha Islands.
He also said the distance is too great for helicopters, the most efficient way to save lives at sea. The main way to handle accidents in the area at present is to arrange for vessels passing by to help.
Wang Qingjian, a captain who has fished in the Nansha Islands for 34 years, said, "The new station will greatly help fishermen."
Wang Wensong, the captain, said: "We will try our best to save any vessel sending distress signals in waters under our jurisdiction, no matter what country a vessel is from — even it is from a country that has territorial disputes with China, or a country without diplomatic relations with us. These are not problems."
Beijing has promised to develop its search and rescue capabilities in the South China Sea to "provide necessary assistance" to both Chinese and foreign ships.
In 2006, Wang, then first officer of the Nanhaijiu 111, worked with other Chinese rescuers to search a vast area after a typhoon, and located 22 Vietnamese fishing ships at Hanoi's request. They rescued and helped 330 Vietnamese fishermen.
Wang said the growing number of rescue forces in the South China Sea will help with China's Belt and Road Initiative and business worldwide.
"Shipping is the major way to send cargo, and a guaranteed international route is good news for all countries."