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September 21, 2017

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Princess Taiping rammed by unknown vessel

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- "We all but made it," Nelson Liu bemoaned yesterday.

He skippered his Ming war junk Princess Taiping through an unprecedented trans-Pacific voyage, which came to an abrupt end only a stone's throw away from its destination at 2:40 a.m.

An unidentified freighter rammed the replica of a three-masted Chinese war junk, cutting it into two halves off Suao, a fishing port on northeastern Taiwan.

The Princess Taiping was expected to berth at Keelung this morning after a 14,000-mile voyage across the Pacific in ten months.

Liu and his 10-member crew, thrown into the seas in the hit-and-run accident at the 11th hour of their ambitious record-making voyage, were saved by Taiwan's air force and coast guard rescue team.

With head and leg injuries, Liu was helped aboard a National Coast Guard Administration cutter three hours after the Hong Kong-registered Princess Taiping was hit in the middle of night.

"We had earned 99 marks (out of 100)," said 62-year-old Liu, resting at the Veterans General Hospital at Suao where he was taken after the cutter docked at 10:00 a.m where he was later released.

"It's a pity that we couldn't earn the last one mark," Liu lamented. "No word can describe how sorry I am."

The skipper was asleep when a crew member woke him up and warned of an unknown freighter coming too close to the Princess Taiping.

"I contacted the freighter by radio," Liu went on. "We talked in English and I was told to keep my ship to the starboard side of the freighter," he added.

Liu obeyed. Two minutes later, however, the freighter split his vessel.

"The only identification I have of the freighter is its christened name, Champion Express," Liu recalled.

The Coast Gguard confirmed the Champion Express was off Suao. But it did not stop to look for those thrown overboard, they said.

"As a matter of fact," a coast guard lieutenant said, "the Champion Express, which was heading north, stopped only a few minutes, and then continued to sail northwards."

Alerted by the call for help from the Princess Taiping, the air force search and rescue center dispatched helicopters, which located the shipwreck at 5:16 a.m.

Masao Kinjo, a Japanese crew member, was rescued first. The other nine — including Elizabeth Zeiger, John Hunter and Hugh Morrow of the United States — were lifted off the seas less than half an hour later.

Jason Arnold, Larz Stwewart, William Cook Thomas, Jack L. Durham and Yoji Mori formed the rest of the crew.

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