Responsibilities in ship collision to be identified

Updated: 2007-05-17 22:15

The mystery surrounding a collision between an ROK freighter and a Chinese container ship last Saturday thickened today when it was revealed that some of the crew of the Chinese ship had had contacts with the stricken "Golden Rose" at 9 a.m. on Saturday.

According to earlier reports, the "Golden Rose" sank off the coast near Yantai City, in east China's Shandong Province, around 3:00 a.m. Saturday in heavy fog after colliding with the Chinese container ship "Jinsheng", operated by Shandong Lufeng Shipping Company Ltd.

"The crew of the 'Jinsheng' told the investigation team that it had contacts with 'Golden Rose' at 9 a.m. on Saturday, but why both parties failed to inform the maritime authorities is a mystery. The investigation team is looking into it," he said.

Liu Gongchen, executive deputy director of the China Maritime Search and Rescue Center, said at a press conference held in Beijing on Thursday that China's Ministry of Communications has set up an investigation team.

"China will invite ROK experts to join the Chinese team investigating the accident and the "Jinsheng" and its operators," Liu told reporters.

"We promise we will announce the investigation results as soon as possible. If the 'Jinsheng' is found out to have broken the law, the people concerned will be held responsible and prosecuted, " he said.

"China will use due legal process to determine responsibilities in the accident", he insisted.

Investigators are wondering why neither ship sent an SOS signal at the time of the accident and why the container ship continued to steam toward port in Dalian, in northeast China's Liaoning Province, apparently without going to help the stricken vessel.

Sixteen sailors from the ROK ship "Golden Rose" -- eight ROK nationals, seven from Myanmar and one from Indonesia -- are still missing almost a week after the accident.

An emergency Chinese diving team, including 16 divers, two instructors, two doctors and an engineer, on Thursday arrived in the sea area off Yantai where the collision occurred, according to the official.

"They are ready to dive down to the sunken ship whenever sea conditions permit," he said.

Zhai Jiugang, director of the General Office of the China Maritime Search and Rescue Center, said the "Golden Rose" is supposed to be equipped with three life rafts, and only two have been found, "so there is a possibility that someone may have survived".

But Zhai said that people can usually survive for only about three hours in water with temperatures ranging from four to 10 degrees Celsius. If the temperature of the water is 10 to 15 degrees, they may survive for six hours.

"Hopes of survival are obviously very slim if the seamen fell overboard because water temperatures in the area where the collision occurred are only about nine to 10 degrees," he said.

Asked at the press conference whether Chinese authorities had reported the accident to the ROK authorities in a timely manner, Zhai responded that the Yantai Maritime Affairs Bureau received the collision report from Shandong Lufeng Shipping Company Ltd. at 11:40 a.m. on Saturday. The China Maritime Search and Rescue Center received the report in turn at 1:00 p.m. and informed ROK authorities at 1:07 p.m.

"International maritime practice states that ships must be equipped with manual and automatic alarms so that they can immediately send out SOS signals if they are in danger, but neither China nor the ROK or any other neighboring country or region received an SOS signal from the 'Golden Rose'," Zhai said.

More than 300 Chinese ships and three aircraft have joined the search for the missing sailors, and China has invited the ROK to send rescue boats and coast guard vessels. Rescuers have retrieved two life rafts, four life rings, traces of fuel oil and other debris from the "Golden Rose" -- but have found no sign of the seamen.

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