Oops! Sorry, wrong button
There were some very red faces aboard the 500t ROCS Chin Jiang, a Taiwanese missile patrol boat, on 1 July.
Someone accidentally launched one of Taiwan’s most sophisticated anti-ship missiles during a drill at 8:20am that morning whilst the ship was at Zuoying Naval Base in Kaohsiung.
At first, it seemed this would be contained as a mere embarrassment, as the Ministry of National Defence believed the Hsiung Feng III (HF-3) missile had harmlessly dropped into the Taiwan Strait well short of the median line shared with China.
However, it was later discovered that the missile had hit the Taiwanese fishing boat Xiang Li Sheng 40nm away southeast of Penghu Island. The captain was killed and three crewmen were injured when the missile struck, even though its live warhead did not detonate.
A petty officer of the Republic of China Navy was blamed for violating standard operating procedures, and switching from simulation mode to combat mode.
Conspirators and rumourmongers immediately suggested it was done to discredit Taiwan’s newly inaugurated President Tsai Ing-wen. Others noted that it occurred as China celebrated the 95th anniversary of the formation of the communist party.
That same day, Taipei notified neighbours, ‘making it clear that the incident was a result of human error during a ship’s training drill’, according to a press release.
Taiwan’s statement added, ‘The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stresses that the incident occurred accidentally, due to human error in a ship’s training drill, and has no bearing on ROC cross-strait or diplomatic policy; that the ROC commitment to maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and the region has not changed; and that the ROC will provide a comprehensive account of the incident following further investigation, to prevent any misunderstanding.’
China was quick to make hay. Zhang Zhijun, head of the country’s Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, said, ‘The incident occurred and caused severe impact at a time when the mainland has repeatedly emphasised safeguarding peaceful development of cross-Strait relations…’ Zhang demanded a ‘responsible explanation’ from Taiwan.
Tsai expressed condolences to the captain’s family and the injured, saying, ‘The government takes full responsibility and all related agencies will assist the families in seeking compensation.’
The HF-3 missile built by the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST) has an estimated 300km range, and Taiwan has nicknamed it a ‘carrier killer’.
In a tragic sort of way, the fact that the missile was able to hit a fibreglass fishing boat with a low silhouette tells us something of its capabilities.
However, the fact is that this kind of human error should just not happen, in Taiwan or anywhere else.
Taiwan has been embarrassed by lapses in professionalism in recent times, one other example being allowing members of the public access to Apache helicopters.
It is reported that seven officers are to be disciplined for the incident, including the ship’s captain.