Taiwan's Ocean Researcher V sank on 10 October.

Taiwan's Ocean Researcher V sank on 10 October.


Human error led to sinking of Taiwanese research vessel

The sinking of Taiwan's Ocean Researcher V last fall resulted from human error, the head of the country's Maritime and Port Bureau told local press this week. The 10 October accident claimed the lives of two researchers and rendered the dedicated marine research ship a total loss.

Barely a day into a cruise to study atmospheric pollution, Ocean Researcher V headed back to port because of bad weather. The ship drifted off course, struck two submerged reefs, and sank near the Penghu Islands, about 260 kilometers southwest of Taipei in the Taiwan Strait. Most of the 27 researchers and students and 18 crew were rescued. But Shih-Chieh Hsu, the cruise's chief scientist, and Yi-Chun Lin, an engineering assistant, drowned.

Wen-chung Chi, director-general of the Maritime and Port Bureau, said that a review of the ship's voyage data recorder and other evidence indicated that the crew should have been alerted that the ship had drifted off course. A comprehensive report on the accident is due to be released next week.

The 2700-ton, 72.6-meter-long ship had been in service under the Taiwan Ocean Research Institute (TORI) in Kaohsiung for less than 2 years. The availability of the well-equipped, ocean-going vessel had led to an expansion of Taiwan's marine research programs and international collaborations. TORI Director Hui-Ling Lin tells ScienceInsider that the agency will have a similar ship built to replace Ocean Researcher V; construction "will be initiated as soon as we receive the settlement of the insurance claim," she says.

To bridge the gap, TORI plans to acquire a new, smaller vessel for temporary use. The agency has designs on a half-built ship that's now in the shipyard, Lin says: "The original design has to be changed in order to install instruments."